The Best of Berlin - Impressions of a study trip

By Jessica Baker, exchange student from the University of New South Wales, Australia

The Bucerius Exchange Class of 2017 had the opportunity to visit Berlin during the midterm break. As a city known for its profound and divisive history, vibrant culture and mesmerising sights, Berlin stole a piece of our hearts.

"We got a well-rounded picture of German history through the lens of Berlin"
Lorraine (University of Virginia School of Law)

Over the course of three days, and with the help of Sabrina and Balin from the International Office, the group navigated from museums, to cafes, to historical sights, and even through the German Parliament!

These are the author's seven most memorable moments:

"With Berlin being a metropolis you can never get tired of, the study trip was a great opportunity to either get to know Berlin for the first time or to deepen your knowledge if you are a comebacker"
Antonia (University of Zagreb)


1. A tour of the Reichstag Building and visit to the viewing platform

As the symbolic and concrete seat of federal government in Germany, the Reichstag building is momentous. We were lucky enough to have a tour guide lead us through the Parliament, party rooms, and other key areas. Walking past graffiti of soviet prisoners, preserved and honoured on the walls of today’s government buildings, was particularly moving. The tour culminated in a visit to the roof terrace and ‘the Dome’ which offered stunning views of the Berlin skyline and government district.

2. A walking tour around Berlin’s historic centre

Hopping off the bus from Hamburg, many of us having never set foot in Berlin before, we were struck by just how different Berlin is from Hamburg. It was absolutely freezing as we made our way around – passing landmarks including Museum Island, the Berliner Dom, Rathaus, and Fernsehturm. The tour gave us a great orientation to the city and greatly helped us out over the coming days as we tried to navigate from place to place.

"The tour allowed us to understand how Berlin developed through two dictatorships but also, how the city has transformed through the ages"
Antonia (University of Zagreb)

3. Taking in the Topographie Des Terrors

The Topographie des Terrors is a must-see ‘documentation centre’ which houses artefacts and materials that trace the history of terror in Germany. The centre provided an intense yet incredible insight into the persecution of state enemies throughout twentieth century Germany. It is located on the former site of the Nazi S.S headquarters and prison, and overlooks a preserved section of the Berlin Wall to remind visitors of the hermetic Cold War division of East and West. Our group had a guided tour through the centre where we discovered a range of artefacts, photos/videos and materials. Our guide provided a critical perspective on topics ranging from the planning and operation of concentration camps, to the persecution of ‘state and racial enemies’, to the treatment of prisoners in the Gestapo House Prison, to the rigorous surveillance and policing of political opponents and the public. The exhibition was extremely poignant and thought provoking, and most of us left with more questions than answers, deeply touched by the experiences of so many.

4. A tour through Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Prison Memorial

The principal remand centre for prisoners of the former East German State Security (Stasi), Hohenschönhausen, has been largely preserved and serves as an stark reminder of the conditions, methods, and goings on of interrogation and imprisonment in the GDR. The site itself is incredibly eerie – dark and dingy isolation cells, in-situ interrogation rooms, and haunting silence. Our guided tour began with a short documentary on the history of Hohenschönhausen, including interviews with former prisoners. Our guide then led us around each building, demonstrating methods of confusion used to unnerve detainees, recounting real experiences, and encouraging a critical awareness of the realities of life as a political prisoner or interrogee in Hohenschönhaus.

5. Exploring the Old National Gallery

Just one of the museums on Berlin’s Museum Island, the Old National Gallery blew us away. Our tour guide led us through a carefully curated collection of artworks from the French Revolutionary period to the First World War, covering a wide range of artistic movements styles. The gallery was very impressive. We stopped by the renowned ‘Two Princesses’ and saw pieces by Auguste Renoi, Caspar David Freidrich and Edouard Manet.

"The gallery was one of the best I have been to and gave me a perspective of German and Berlin history that was very different"
Hamish (University of Queensland)

6. Touring the Jewish Museum

The Jewish Museum, housed in the specially designed Libeskind Building, traces the history of Jewish peoples in Europe. Architecturally, the museum symbolises the strength and fragmentation of Jewish history in Germany. Our guide helped us navigate through the vast and disorientating spaces and thoughtful mix of temporary and permanent exhibitions. The museum honoured survivors and celebrated Jewish culture and religion in Europe throughout history. One particularly striking moment was looking outside, through the voids, into the Memory Void and Schalechet. The symbolic installation honoured both Holocaust victims and all victims of war and violence.

7. Brauhaus am Schloss - Group Dinner

Dinner was incredible and we all so grateful and lucky to have had Annalena organise a truly authentic German experience for us. We tried potato soup, stuffed pork, Berlin style meatballs, salads, pickled gherkins, berry compote and vanilla sauce and more. It was spectacular and we all came away from the meal feeling like true Germans.

"It was great to get to spend time with friends and also get to know people better".
Alexandra (Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México)

Unquestionably, our Berlin experience was very, very busy. We saw, learned, appreciated, and absorbed so much in the few days we were there. We left Berlin with smiling faces and the conviction to return soon (although, maybe in Summer next time!).

A thank you to the International Office

From everybody who went on the Berlin Study Trip we cannot thank Annalena, Sabrina, Balin and Kasia enough for all the organisation and planning that went on behind the scenes, and during the trip, to ensure it was such a success. We really appreciate all the work the International Office does for us every day, and the Berlin Trip was just another example.


Jessica Baker