Dr Julien Drouart
Educational trip to Berlin: high school and college
Updated: Jan 11, 2022
Dear pedagogues and teachers, dear colleagues, you are planning an educational trip to Berlin for your college class. Most of your pupils are young adults who are learning to debate, to confront ideas and to assert themselves as individuals. They are now able to invest themselves intellectually. You will have to adapt the stay by defining an appropriate programme that will meet both your expectations and those of your students. Let me guide you in organising your educational stay in Berlin for college students.
The basics of an educational trip for college students
You no longer need to fear historical complexity. Students are capable of adapting to both the themes and the narrative patterns. These young people are here to learn to take responsibility. It will therefore be a question of finding formats that allow them to be actively involved, both in their free time and in their time of reflection. The aim of such a stay is also to give birth to young minds: to make the pupils aware of diversity, of memorial and artistic themes.
Defining the educational objectives of an educational trip to Berlin
The trip to Berlin will first of all be an opportunity to consolidate the knowledge acquired. The themes studied in class are tackled in depth with a different approach. The student learns to situate historical events in a more global process.
The aim is to encourage students to question the place of the individual in political society. The stay follows the principle of a civic education. This process reaffirms the democratic ideal and invites students to think about individual and collective responsibilities during events.
Finally, the educational trip can take the form of a journey of initiation. Through contact with peers and adult themes, the student becomes more responsible. They should be given the chance to learn about themselves and to assert themselves in their life learning.
Some advice for teachers
Invest fully in the organisation of your trip. Choose the areas of approach and interest that you want to emphasise. Even if you use a travel agency for logistical matters, you should remain in control of the overall shape of your project.
I recommend that you focus on memory work rather than history. This will enable you to include the trip in the framework of civic education. In this respect, do not be afraid of programmes with a strong emotional and reflective potential. Take the time needed to get to the bottom of things and allow time for individual reflection.
Finally, bear in mind that the trip you are organising will be in the company of young adults who are aware of the educational imperatives. Make a commitment to intelligence. Do not reproduce the vertical hierarchies that are often necessary and see your role as that of a pedagogue and not a teacher.
Practical issues: agency, transport and accommodation
Should you use a travel agency?
Organising your own stay is a challenge that requires a lot of personal investment. You will need to find accommodation, choose transport and make all reservations, including those for meals out. Nevertheless, self-organisation is the most popular model, especially for college groups.
The agency will organise bus transport, accommodation and a tailor-made programme for you, although you will have the opportunity to express your preferences. Generally, the agency will use its local service providers, most of whom are not museum or memorial staff. Despite the higher cost and the sometimes disappointing services, the organisation of the stay is made easier. It is therefore an interesting option for groups coming from very far away.
Transport: train, bus or plane?
The bus has the advantage of being cost-effective. You will be able to get around more easily on site. On the other hand, you will probably travel at night and arrive the next day in the morning. As you will not have access to your accommodation until the afternoon or evening, you will need to adjust your schedule to take account of accumulated fatigue.
Flying is faster but more expensive and the travel time to the airport means that most students have to get up in the night and many stay up all night. This means of transport is only to be preferred if your flight leaves from your city or if the departure is planned after 10am.
Finally, I strongly advise against using the train. The costs are higher than for a bus trip. Above all, there will always be a risk concerning possible connections. However, this is a plausible alternative if you live close to the German border and are travelling with a small group.
Accommodation: host family or youth hostel
Accommodation with a host family is definitely not suitable for the needs and expectations of young adults. If you choose this option, you will be sending your students the image of children. Furthermore, you will not be able to go on any cultural outings in the evening.
Accommodation in a youth hostel should therefore be preferred. Generally, students stay in single-sex dormitories with sanitary facilities on the landing. Sometimes there is a common room for table football or billiards. Breakfast is included and is relatively satisfactory. On the other hand, the packed lunch is rather expensive and very little provided, in any case insufficient for young adults. I would advise you to finance an outside meal, collectively or by group according to affinities.
For 17-18 years old students, you can risk accommodation in an attractive district, but avoid locations that are too festive, such as Kreuzberg. Preferably, opt for a place that is close to transport links but offers a pleasant living environment.
I recommend three good addresses here. The AO Hostel Hauptbahnhof is a 10-minute walk from the main train station and offers an almost residential setting away from the main roads. The Meiniger Hotel Mitte Humboldthaus is located in a secluded spot on the station forecourt and is close to the New Synagogue. Finally, the DJH Jugendherberge Berlin International is a true German network youth hostel, a 15-minute walk from Potsdamer Platz.
The content of an educational stay in Berlin with college students
On this basis, you can build your educational stay, which should follow the 4-step rule: education, discovery, socialisation and freedom. Ideally, you should combine all four during the stay, but give priority to educational activities. The savings made must allow for cultural activities, which are absolutely essential for secondary school students.
During visits to museums or memorials, I ask you to trust the professionalism of the lecturers at your disposal. Bear in mind that you are not in the same profession and that the educational approaches are therefore different. Under no circumstances should you provide the guidance yourself. Furthermore, an audio guide or a questionnaire cannot replace the exchange and human contact. Finally, this is not a language stay, so you should preferably opt for services in English.
Important point: you will have the choice of format, i.e. guided tours, conferences and study days. For students aged 16, stick to the guided tour model. For 17 and 18 years old students, consider between 1 and 2 study days or seminars.
On the theme of the Cold War and the German division, here are two excellent addresses: the Berlin Wall Memorial and the Stasi Prison Memorial.
On the theme of National Socialist Germany, I recommend, in order of preference: the Sachsenhausen Memorial (with a full-day seminar), the Jewish Museum and the German Resistance Memorial Center (with a half-day seminar).
Essentially, these are visits to the city which should make the pupils aware of a thematic story. In other words, you will exclude the tourist dimension from the tour. The topics covered can be sustained, but this does not preclude an exploration of Berlin's urban space. Ideally, these tours take place before lunch or just after.
I highly recommend several accessible and enriching themes. Firstly, a visit to the memorials in Mitte to learn about the memory in the public space. Secondly, a visit to the historic old Jewish quarter to discuss the memories of the Shoah. Finally, you will address the issue of the new German democracy during a lecture at the Reichstag, followed by a free visit on the terrace of the building.
Social and cultural outings are essential, although they are not well regarded by your management and some parents. Their purpose is to make the young person aware of higher artistic forms. To arouse curiosity, to initiate discussion and critical opinions. A cultural outing is not enough on its own; the aim is to create a shared experience that allows each person to take a stand and assert their preferences.
In addition to the obvious advantage of forging a group dynamic, these moments of socialisation reward the participation of students in strictly educational activities and reinforce the trust that exists with teachers. It is a substantial investment with absolutely rewarding results.
Some examples of cultural activities: the Lunchkonzert at the Philharmonie, an opera at the Deutsche Oper or Komische Oper, a classical concert at the Konzerthaus, an Sunday Karaoke in the Mauerpark or a jazz concert at the A-Trane.
Be careful not to present too uniform a programme. Also, cultural activities in the evening should be very limited in number. Schedule a maximum of two.
Germany has a policy of tolerance regarding the consumption of alcoholic beverages, which allows for the regulation and monitoring of the behaviour of young people. A single low-level consumption of alcohol may be tolerated exceptionally for students aged 17 and over at a party and should not become the norm.
Students should be given the opportunity to socialise with each other during free time. This allows for a certain amount of withdrawal and privacy from one another. Free time enhances the collective experiences of the past and the future. To maximise your chances, I recommend not leaving the hostel before 8.30am, except in exceptional cases. If you are organising a cultural evening outing, always plan to spend at least an hour in the hostel before going there. Finally, it is a good idea to plan at least two group meals in a restaurant dedicated to groups.
In addition, there are cultural free times in art museums. For example, an introduction to modern art at the Neue Nationalgalerie and Berlinische Galerie, or an exploration of the ancient collections at the Altes Museum.
What about the cultural budget?
On the basis of a stay of 5 days and 4 nights in Berlin for 26 students and 4 chaperones, I suggest a programme including 11 activities of your choice: 5 educational activities (100€ = guided tours to a memorial), 2 discovery activities (300€ = guided visits in the city), 2 social activities (240€ = jazz concert and comic opera) and 2 cultural activities. So a cultural budget of about 640€, that is to say 4,5€ per person and per day.
Such a programme is realistic because it does not seek to be exhaustive. The topics covered can be dealt with in depth, particularly during study days or seminars. The total cost is relatively reasonable, since most of the state memorials and museums in Berlin have special rates or even offer them to school groups. In the end, you can use the savings to treat your students to a classical music concert, a contemporary dance performance or a meal in a brasserie.
I wish you a successful educational experience in Berlin. Welcome to the German capital.