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  • Writer's pictureDr Julien Drouart

Educational Trip to Berlin: Secondary School

Updated: Jun 24, 2023



You are planning an educational trip to Berlin for your secondary school class. This process requires patience, prospecting, and student preparation. You will have to make choices and, as a result, eliminate options based on your preferences and the budget allocated. Allow me to guide you in organizing this educational stay in Berlin for secondary school students.



The Basics of an Educational Trip for Secondary School Students


Remember that your stay is part of a voyage of discovery. You should not have to evaluate your knowledge upon your return. Primarily, this is a class trip; students will need some free time and recreation. Lastly, you will be discovering Berlin with teenagers, so you should not focus solely on traumatic issues.


Defining the Educational Objectives of an Educational Trip to Berlin


The trip to Berlin is an opportunity to understand the history of the 20th century. Many students may not yet have studied the topics they will encounter in class. The trip will serve as an introduction to totalitarianism and the complexity of democratic renewal.


The students should also explore Berlin's culture and the emergence of a German identity. The aim is to inspire pupils to learn foreign languages, understand linguistic and cultural differences, and expand their horizons.


Lastly, the educational stay should break the routine and create an exceptional and formative experience. Varied and visual experiences help teenagers to create lasting, collective, and individual memories.



Advice for Teachers


Invest fully in the organization of your trip. Choose the focus and areas of interest you want to emphasize. Even if you employ a travel agency for logistical matters, you should retain control of your project's overall direction.


I suggest you anticipate the program in history class. Don't hesitate to address the themes that students will confront. In this context, the notions of National Socialism and popular democracy should be studied chronologically. Involve your pupils in trip preparation with class presentations on German culture or a monument you will visit in Berlin. However, this involvement should not be assessed.


Finally, remember that the trip you organize is a class trip, outside the usual framework of your school. Avoid reproducing the vertical hierarchies that are often necessary in the classroom and see your role as that of a mentor, not just a teacher.



Practical Matters: Agency, Transport, and Accommodation


Should You Use a Travel Agency?


For groups of more than 10 people, it's advisable to use an agency. Despite the higher cost and potentially disappointing performance, you will avoid many complications.


The agency will organize bus transport, accommodation with host families, and a custom program for you, although you may have preferences for certain activities. To a large extent, the agency will charge you for services usually offered to school groups at historical sites. However, the agency will utilize its local service providers, most of whom are not museum or memorial educational staff.


Transport: Train, Bus, or Plane?


The bus is cost-effective, allowing easy on-site mobility. However, you will likely travel at night and arrive the next morning. Since you won't have access to your accommodation until the afternoon or evening, you'll need to adjust your schedule to account for accumulated fatigue.


Flying is faster but more expensive, and travel time to the airport means that most students have to rise in the night, and many stay up all night. This mode of transport is only preferable if your flight departs from your city, or if the departure is scheduled after 10 am.


Lastly, I strongly advise against using the train due to the higher costs compared to a bus trip and the risks concerning possible connections. However, this is a viable alternative if you live close to the German border and are traveling with a small group.


Accommodation: Host Family or Youth Hostel


Staying with a host family is the easiest accommodation option for teachers and accompanying persons. You won't have to supervise your students late into the night. Two or three students will be responsible for themselves in their host's home. They will have breakfast, a packed lunch, and dinner. However, you won't be able to go out or have any recreational activities after 6-8 pm. Keep in mind that most hosts accommodate students for economic reasons, so do not consider this option as a way to practice German.


Staying in a hostel is only viable if you know your group well and if they are mature. Typically, students stay in single-sex dormitories with communal bathrooms. Sometimes there is a common room for table football or pool. Breakfast is included and is relatively satisfactory. However, the packed lunch is rather expensive and poorly provided, insufficient for teenagers. I would advise you to arrange an outside meal.


I recommend three quiet locations, accessible by public transport and away from festive districts: AO Hostel Hauptbahnhof, Meininger Hotel Hauptbahnhof, and DJH Jugendherberge Berlin International.



The Content of an Educational Stay in Berlin with Secondary School Students


Your educational stay should follow the 4-step rule: education, discovery, socialization, and freedom. Ideally, you should combine all four for each day of the trip but avoid excessive accumulation, overly expensive activities, and overly specific themes.


Educational Time


During visits to museums or memorials, trust the professionalism of the lecturers available to you. Understand that your professions differ and, therefore, so do your educational approaches. You should not provide the guidance yourself. Moreover, an audio guide or a questionnaire cannot replace human contact and interaction. You must deliver the guided tours in English.


I can recommend several educational activities distinguished by their scope and the extraordinary visuals they offer. A 60-minute guided tour is essential. After each visit, students should have at least 30 minutes of individual discovery time.


For topics on the Cold War and the division of Germany, the best options are: the Berlin Wall Memorial, the Allied Museum, and the Museum of Everyday Life in the GDR.


On the subject of National Socialist Germany, here are two excellent options: the Topography of Terror and the Jewish Museum.


Finally, the Pergamon Museum offers an exceptional view of the history of ancient Greek and Mesopotamian civilizations.



Discovery Time


Essentially, these are guided or free tours of the city. Students discover an unknown and new space. The duration should not exceed two hours per session. Guided tours are not compulsory. However, your guide will think practically so that the points of interest fit into a logical and unobtrusive walking route. Ideally, these city tours take place before or just after lunch. Don't worry if your routes overlap. Some places, such as the Brandenburg Gate, should be seen and crossed at least twice during your stay.


I highly recommend several accessible and rewarding routes: Unter den Linden axis, new Berlin from Potsdamer Platz and the Sony Center to the Reichstag Palace, and from Alexanderplatz to Haus Schwarzenberg, a place dedicated to street art.


Socializing Time


Although not always well-regarded by your management or some parents, recreational outings are essential. Apart from the obvious advantage of reinforcing the group dynamic, these socializing moments help students to pay better attention during strictly educational activities and strengthen the existing trust with the teachers and professors.


Examples of recreational activities include: a bowling session at the Berolina Bowling Lounge, attending Karaoke at the Mauerpark, or hands-on workshops on street art.



Free Time


Students should have the opportunity to spend time with each other during free time. This allows for a certain amount of withdrawal and privacy. Free time enhances the value of past or future collective experiences. Also, a lighter program reduces overloads, potential delays, and therefore stress and fatigue. To maximize your chances, I recommend not leaving the hostel before 9 am and not having more than 3.5 hours of guided tours per day. Also, always allow 60 minutes for a lunch break.


There is also potentially educational free time, usually in museums or parks, which offer the student freedom of movement and discovery. The Museum of Technology and the Museum of Natural History are two excellent examples. A more recreational trip to the Berlin Zoo can be a great afternoon out. Finally, students will likely want to spend some time shopping. Preferably, opt for the Mall of Berlin, a large shopping center near Potsdamer Platz. Exclude this option for students under 15 years old.


Be cautious about giving students free time in a museum or memorial dedicated to history and remembrance. For example, the GDR Museum is a playful space but remains primarily a place of education on a sometimes complex reality.


What About the Cultural Budget?

For a stay of 5 days and 4 nights in Berlin for 26 students and 4 accompanying adults, I suggest a program including 12 activities of your choice: 6 educational activities (150€ = guided tours to a memorial), 4 educational activities (70€ = free visits to a museum), 1 discovery activity (150€ = guided city tour), and 1 recreational activity (165€ = bowling). This means a cultural budget of about 535€, or 4€ per person per day.


Such a program is realistic because it doesn't overload the days. The total cost is relatively good, as most state memorials and museums in Berlin have special or even free rates for school groups. Ultimately, you can use the savings to treat your students to bowling, a trip to the zoo, or a meal in a pizza restaurant.

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