Insider Guide to Berlin School Trips by Catherine
Adaptable Travel’s Educational Travel Consultant, Catherine Stephenson, has just visited Berlin and has written a blog on her experience:
It was great to be back in my favourite European city. Due to the Covid travel pause, it had now been a few years since my last visit. I first travelled to the city during my university year abroad in Germany, and part of me never left! It made such a lasting impression.
Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt airport
Since my last trip, the new Brandenburg Airport opened in October 2020. I was now landing in Terminal 2 of 3 terminals in the same region as the previous Schonefeld airport site. It was nice to arrive at a modern airport which feels more in keeping with a capital city. It was also great to catch the new FEX (Flughafen Express) airport train. This smart and fast double-decker train travels frequently from the airport into the city and stops at the main city transport hub stations of Ostkreuz, Gesundbrunnen and Hauptbahnhof. This train is covered by the BVG Berlin ABC ticket which covers all transport methods across zones A-C.
City Light Hotel
This hotel promotes itself as family-friendly, and it’s definitely a great option for students. It’s in a good location, only a short 5 min walk from the Gesundbrunnen station with U-Bahn and S-Bahn links to the airport and city centre.
The games room is great for students to chill together in a safe space in the evening. It has a pool table, foosball table, table tennis, board games, TV, and vending machines. Perfect for teenagers!
The buffet breakfast is generous, and the pancake machine is a sure winner with everyone!
Click here for more hotel information on our website.
Tempelhof airport had been on my ‘to-do’ list for some time. I was aware of its historical significance. A new airport building was built between 1936 and 1941 for the National Socialists to show their might, and it then became a symbol of freedom in the Cold War.
You meet your guide at the Check-in visitor centre, and there is currently an interesting exhibition located here called ‘A Broad Field. Tempelhof Airport and its history’. It is a good introduction whilst you wait for your guide.
The excellent tour guide met the group and walked us through the airport building on a two-hour tour. The guide was very knowledgeable and explained about the architectural history and how, due to the Second World War, elements of the airport were not completed. Both inside and outside, the tour really gave you a feel for the size of the place, which is the largest architectural monument in Europe. The empty reception and check-in halls are enormous in height with marble flooring. You see the lift which Hitler used at the airport and see the vast Templehof field which became a stage for propaganda events by the National Socialists. The SS also ran one of the first concentration camps on the outskirts of the grounds.
The guide also explained that, after the war and between 1952 and 1961, Templehof airport became a symbol of freedom. Located in the American sector, thousands of people left the DDR via this airport for West Germany. When the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies’ railway, road and canal access to the Western sectors of Berlin, Templehof Airport was used to airlift supplies of food, fuel and medicine to the Western Allies. It became known as the ‘Gateway to the World’.
It was last a working airport in 2008, and the Tempelhof field is now a popular park; former runways and adjacent green spaces have been open to the public since 2010.
Olympic Stadium tour
I had visited the stadium before. As a keen football fan, I was keen to see Germany’s Wembley, which is also used for athletics and is the home of Hertha Berlin football team. It is also used as an event space with many famous musicians performing here.
This time I took the guided tour as there’s so much more to this stadium than a sporting venue. As well as a glimpse of the VIP areas and dressing rooms, this tour really takes you on a journey through the eventful history of the grounds. You learn all about how the current stadium was constructed for the 1936 Olympic Games. You learn how the Olympic Park was used for National Socialist propaganda purposes. As with Templehof, it was intended to promote an image of a strong, united Germany. The stadium’s structure certainly gives off this impression with a design reminiscent of the Colosseum in Rome. You see the podium area where Hitler made his speech at the opening ceremony and learned how they refrained from anti-Semitic attacks during the games. They allowed the participation of different races, and this was a complete façade for their terrorist regime where Hitler hoped to profile the supremacy of what he considered the Aryan ‘master race’. You then hear how the opposite occurred with the success of black American athlete Jesse Owens and how he stole the show with four gold medals.
I did the ‘Highlight Tour’, which is a 60-minute tour. They also offer a two-hour ‘Premium Tour’, which covers more of the Olympic Park and the dome hall, or 90-minute themed tours in history, sport or architecture.
Stasi Prison (Hohenschonhausen Memorial)
This visit is a must-see for students studying Cold War history. I had taken this tour with a school group many years ago but wanted to refresh my memory. This memorial is located in the depths of Eastern Berlin and down a residential street, easily accessible by tram.
You meet your guide in the visitor’s centre café, and you are taken straight to the cell block for an introductory talk on the history of the prison. These guides are either historians or even former prisoners. You learn how the prison buildings were previously a commercial kitchen and how in May 1945, the Soviets set up a camp and barracks here. In 1951, the Ministry for State Security (better known as the Stasi) took over the prison and it was used to detain political prisoners until January 1990.
Whilst showing you around the prison building, the terrifying history of the Stasi Prison is explained. Anyone who the Stasi considered was standing in the way of the Communist dictatorship was imprisoned there. You learn that this prison did not appear on any map, so no one would know where friends and family members were taken. You get to see the vehicle, disguised as a delivery van, where the Stasi would take the accused and drive them around the city with no windows, so they were completely disorientated before arriving at the prison. You see the small cells and interrogation rooms where prisoners were exposed to psychological torture, quite often forcing a confession, even if the prisoner was innocent.
I had missed Museum Island from my previous visits to Berlin. I’m not sure why as it’s a major tourist attraction for the city and it’s renowned for being one of the most beautiful museum ensembles in the world. It comprises five museums; the Altes Museum, the Neues Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, the Bode Museum and the Pergamon Museum. These museums contain vast collections of classical antiquities, art, Ancient Egyptian exhibits, archaeological finds, art of the 19th Century and sculptures, to name a few.
I only had one afternoon with a Museum Island ticket which covers all museums. I chose to visit the Ancient Egypt exhibition at the Neues Museum. This impressive display included many artefacts and sculptures, including the world-famous Bust of Nefertiti.
The Pergamon Museum is currently shut for renovation, so I visited the incredible 30-metre-high 360-degree Panorama in its place. This shows an image of the ancient city of Pergamon in 129 AD. Cutting-edge technology shows the sights and sounds of the hustle and bustle in the day and at night. It includes a high platform where you can immerse yourself in the panorama.
Combined with the Stasi Prison, this museum is a fascinating visit. To know you are walking into the actual building of the Stasi headquarters. You learn that the headquarters was a very large complex with about 40 office buildings and 7000 employees who worked there until 1989.
I did a self-guided tour through the exhibition, located on the various floors of the building. However, groups now receive a guided tour, which would be very worthwhile. They will draw student’s attention to the important parts of the exhibition, including artefacts such as the bugging devices used in East Berliners’ homes. On the second floor of the building, the offices and meeting rooms of Erich Mielke, have been kept as they were found with the same décor.
Views of the city
Berlin TV Tower
I have now been up the TV tower a few times in both the day and night. Not only does it provide an amazing view of the city, but it’s also such an iconic symbol of the East. The observation deck gives you a 360-degree view with many information points to explain the view.
Groups can now combine visiting the observation deck with Berlin’s Odyssey, a choice of two new virtual reality 3D films with a VR headset. I watched both films, which are 12-15 minutes long. Both were great, and the students will love the VR headsets, something I’d never tried before and was amazed by the technology. I would recommend the 12-minute film about the history of the TV Tower’s construction. You see how the tower was built and inaccessible places with 360-degree real video recordings. The other 15-minute film is excellent and covers nine centuries of Berlin’s history.
Reichstag rooftop terrace and glass dome
Visiting this landmark parliament building is a great free option to view the city. The glass dome designed by British architect, Norman Foster, is very impressive. The steel and glass structure allows the general public to wind their way up a rotating spiral ramp to look directly into the plenary chamber. During the dome tour, an audio guide informs you about the building, and it picks up your view at different points of the ramp. I visited on a sunny winter day, and the views were stunning.
The only catch is that you must register online with passport names and ages. Slots are usually available approximately three months in advance. Understandably, the security is tight, and you must show your passports on arrival and go through airport-style security before you’re allowed up the glass lift to the rooftop.
There are also guided tours of the Reichstag building possible. I would advise registering online as soon as possible.
Berlin Christmas markets
I love to visit the Christmas markets starting from the last week of November. The sights and smells of the beautiful crafts, toys, and Gluhwein mean the start of the festive season. There is a vast array of markets to choose from in the city. I particularly enjoyed the WeihnachtsZauber Gendarmenmarkt and Charlottenburg Palace markets this time around. The WeihnachtsZauber (Christmas Magic) market is usually located in the beautiful Gendarmenmarkt square. As this is currently undergoing extensive renovation, it has temporarily relocated to Babelsplatz until 2024. This market is special, with a large craft market of handmade gifts and decorations and a stage with a programme of music, acrobatics and dancing. There’s a small €2 per person entrance cost, but it’s worth it and free from 12-2pm Monday to Friday.
I visited the Charlottenburg Palace market after the Olympic stadium as it’s in the same part of the city. The beautiful backdrop of the Charlottenburg Palace, with various Christmas scenes projected onto the palace walls, made this a lovely market to visit.
All in all, it was great to go back to Berlin. It’s a magical time of year to visit near Christmas. The city's story is remarkable, and there are fantastic visits to bring its history to life. There’s also so much to see and do, from a vast array of museums to famous landmarks and beautiful parks.
Click here for more information about our trips to Berlin.