Dr Julien Drouart
Educational trip to Berlin: secondary school
Updated: Jan 11, 2022
Dear pedagogues and teachers, dear colleagues, you are planning an educational trip to Berlin for your secondary school class. It is a long process that will require patience, prospecting and preparation of your students beforehand. You will have to make choices and consequently proceed by elimination, according to your preferences and the budget that will be allocated to you. Allow me to guide you in the organisation of your educational stay in Berlin for secondary school students.
The basics of an educational trip for secondary school students
Keep in mind that your stay is part of a voyage of discovery. You should not have to evaluate your knowledge on your return. On the other hand, this is primarily a class trip. Students will need some free time and recreation. Finally, you will be discovering Berlin in the company of teenagers. As such, you should not focus on traumatic issues.
Defining the educational objectives of an educational trip to Berlin
The trip to Berlin will be an opportunity to get to know the history of the 20th century. Many students will not yet have studied the issues they will be confronted with in class. The trip will take the form of an introduction to totalitarianism and the complexity of democratic renewal.
The students will also have to discover Berlin's culture and the beginnings of a German feeling. The aim is therefore to give the pupils the desire to learn foreign languages, to understand linguistic and cultural differences and to go beyond their everyday lives to broaden their horizons.
Finally, the educational stay should break the routine and create an exceptional and formative time. Varied and visual experiences help teenagers to create lasting memories collectively and individually.
Some advice for teachers
Invest fully in the organisation of your trip. Choose the focus and areas of interest 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 advise you to anticipate the programme in history class. Do not hesitate to address the themes that the students will be confronted with. In this respect, the notions of National Socialism and popular democracy should be studied chronologically. Involve your pupils in the preparation of the trip, with class presentations on German culture or on a monument you will visit in Berlin. Of course, this involvement should not be assessed.
Finally, keep in mind that the trip you organise will be a class trip, outside the usual framework of your school. Do not reproduce the vertical hierarchies that are often necessary and see your role as that of a pedagogue, not a teacher.
Practical issues: agency, transport and accommodation
Should you use a travel agency?
With the exception of very small groups of less than 10 people, the best model is to use an agency. Despite the higher cost and sometimes disappointing performance, you will avoid many complications.
The agency will organise bus transport, accommodation with host families and a tailor-made programme 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. On the other hand, the agency will use its local service providers, most of whom are not museum or memorial educational staff.
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 departs from your city or if the departure is scheduled 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
Staying with a host family is the easiest accommodation option for teachers and accompanying persons. You won't have to watch your students late into the night. Two or three students will have to take responsibility for themselves in their hosts' home. They will have breakfast, a packed lunch and dinner. However, you will not be able to go out or have any recreational activities after 6-8pm. Keep in mind that most hosts host students for economic reasons. Therefore, 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. Generally, students stay in single-sex dormitories with sanitary facilities on the landing. Sometimes there is a common room for table football or pool. 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 teenagers. I would advise you to finance an outside meal.
I recommend three quiet addresses, served by public transport and away from the festive districts. 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 Meininger Hotel Hauptbahnhof is located in a secluded area on the station square, close to the Reichstag Palace. 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 secondary school 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 for each day of the trip, but avoid excessive accumulation, overly expensive activities and overly specific themes.
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 human contact and exchange. Finally, you must give the guided tours in English.
I can recommend several educational activities that are distinguished by their scope and the extraordinary visuals they offer. Obviously, the format of a 60-minute guided tour is essential. At the end of each visit, students should be given at least 30 minutes of individual discovery time.
On the subject of the Cold War and the division of Germany, the best addresses in order of preference are: the Berlin Wall Memorial, the Allied Museum and the Museum of the Everyday Life in the GDR.
On the subject of National Socialist Germany, here are two excellent addresses: the Topography of Terror and the Jewish Museum.
Finally, there is the excellent Pergamon Museum on the history of ancient civilisations, Greek and Mesopotamian, with striking visuals where the superlative dominates.
Essentially, these are guided or free visits to the city. Students discover an unknown and new space. The duration should not exceed two hours per session. It is not compulsory to be accompanied. However, your guide will think in practical terms, 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 be afraid that your routes will 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. First, walk up the Unter den Linden axis from the Museum Island to the Brandenburg Gate. Then visit the new Berlin from Potsdamer Platz and the Sony Center to the Reichstag Palace to access the dome. Finally, from Alexanderplatz, you will reach Haus Schwarzenberg, a place dedicated to street art.
Although they are not well regarded by your management, but also by some parents, recreational outings are essential. Apart from the obvious advantage of reinforcing the group dynamic, these moments of socialisation allow the students to pay better attention during strictly educational activities and strengthen the existing trust with the teachers and professors.
It is a substantial investment that will allow you to capitalise on it in the long term. Leaving Berlin with the feeling of having experienced an enriching moment as a young person is certainly the best publicity you can give to motivate the next students to choose German as their second language.
Some examples of recreational activities: a bowling session at the Berolina Bowling Lounge with slots for school groups; attending Karaoke at the Mauerpark, a festive event every Sunday from 3pm; or hands-on workshops on street art, with protective suits and stencilling techniques. A rather expensive activity: count €20/person for three hours.
Beware of the alternative of a bike tour: it combines a recreational ride with awareness of memory work. It is an option that distorts the first and makes the second meaningless. Focus on fun or education, but do not mix the two aspects.
Students should have the opportunity to meet with each other during free time. This allows for a certain amount of withdrawal and privacy from one another. Free time enhances the value of past or future collective experiences. On the other hand, a lighter programme reduces overloads, possible delays and therefore stress and fatigue. To maximise your chances, I recommend not leaving the hostel before 9am and not having more than 3.5 hours of guided tours per day. Also, always allow 60 mins for a lunch break.
In addition to this, there is potentially educational free time. These are enclosed and secure spaces, usually museums or parks, which offer the student freedom of movement and discovery. The Museum of Technology and the Museum of Natural History are two outstanding examples of visually impressive spaces. A more recreational trip to the Berlin Zoo can be a great afternoon out. Finally, students will want to spend some time shopping. Preferably, go for the Mall of Berlin, a large shopping centre near Potsdamer Platz. This last option should be excluded for students under 15 years old.
Be careful not to give students free time in a museum or memorial dedicated to history and remembrance. For example, the GDR Museum is a playful space that remains above all a place of education on a sometimes complex reality.
What about the cultural budget?
On the basis of a stay of 5 days and 4 nights in Berlin for 26 pupils and 4 accompanying adults, I suggest a programme 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 visit to the city) and 1 recreational activity (165€ = bowling). So a cultural budget of about 535€, or 4€ per person per day.
Such a programme is realistic because it does not overload the days. The total amount is relatively good, because most of the state memorials and museums in Berlin have special or even free rates for school groups. In the end, you can use the savings to treat your students to bowling, a trip to the zoo or a meal in a pizza restaurant.
I wish you a successful educational experience in Berlin. Welcome to the German capital.