Post-World War Two, Berlin was sat in ruins. The capital’s population dropped from 4.3 million to 2.8 million. Even with most buildings destroyed, Berlin was split into four sectors separated out to the Allies – the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. Over the following few years, tensions rose among the occupying powers and Berlin became a Cold War hotspot. Its position as a key voice amongst the European states seemed a world away, but today we can reflect on the roller-coaster story that saw the city bombed, split and reunified.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Schloss Cecilienhof in Potsdam is located just 20 miles from the centre of Berlin and was the setting the Potsdam Conference. Attended by Winston Churchill (later Clement Attlee), Harry Truman and Josef Stalin, the aim of the conference, which commenced on 17 July 1945, was to decide Germany’s future. Following Germany’s unconditional surrender nine weeks prior to the conference, it was important to establish order and counter the wide-ranging effects of the war. Crucially, there was a need for an agreement amongst the Allied leaders.
Students can visit Cecilienhof Palace today and learn about the palace, its use and role it played in hosting the Potsdam Conference. The last palace to be built by the House of Hohenzollern (German dynasty dating back to the 11th century), students can walk around the site to admire the unique take on traditional architecture. Mixing together a cottage-style with Tudor Gothic features of a manor house, Cecilienhof certainly does not fit into the atypical view of a palace.
Developing a greater understanding of the Potsdam Conference and its significance in the relations between the USSR, the USA and the UK, students will be well placed to explore the origins of the Cold War and the aims of Stalin, Churchill, Roosevelt, Attlee and Truman.
In addition to visiting the location of the Potsdam Conference, schools can extend their students’ experience while on a school trip to Berlin with a multitude of excursions that focus on the Cold War, including:
- Asisi Panorama
- Checkpoint Charlie Museum
- DDR Museum
- East Side Gallery
- German Historical Museum
These standout excursions help explain the division of Germany and the contrasting attitudes of the West with the USSR. There is also the chance to extend learning opportunities to explore the development and transformation of the Cold War.
By visiting the DDR Museum, school groups can immerse themselves in all aspects of daily life in former East Germany. The DDR Museum also opens discussions around the Berlin Wall, the Stasi and the workings of the state. With the opportunity to interact with original artefacts and objects, school groups are provided with an engaging and interactive experience which contributes to furthering students’ comprehension of the period.
The German Historical Museum is also a valuable resource to support students in building a timeline of the key moments and events post-war Germany faced. Combining collections from the central historical museum of the GDR (Museum für Deutsche Geschichte) and the Deutsches Historisches Museum following the reunification of 1990, students can reflect on the visible changes Berlin faced from 1945 to the present day. Over 900,000 objects and the collection of historical film located in the museum’s Zeughauskino give students an even greater range of media to explore.
For school groups seeking to learn more about the changes faced by communities following the divide of Germany and Berlin in particular, the Asisi Panorama (‘The Wall’ / Die Mauer) is a masterpiece that allows students experience a cityscape that no longer exists.
The 18-metre-high rotunda, situated near Checkpoint Charlie, was created by artists Yadegar Asisi and depicts life in the 1980s in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. Specifically, the panorama shows the Kreuzburg area of Berlin where the artist, Asisi, grew up in the GDR and lived in West Berlin from 1978. This opens a great discussion for school groups to explore how different ideologies greatly impacted on the freedom and opportunities available to those either side of the Berlin Wall.
Seek something different from Berlin
Located in the central Mitte district of Berlin, Museum Island provides students with an opportunity to experience added culture with the UNESCO World Heritage Site giving access to important collections of art and historically important objects.
Featuring five museums, the final of museum to be completed on Museum Island was the Pergamon which opened in 1930. World War Two saw nearly 70% of the buildings that make up Museum Island destroyed. After the war, the collections were split between East and West Berlin. After the reunification of 1989, the five museums were restored and expanded to enhance Museum Island. Amongst the works from Ancient Egypt and Byzantium, students will also appreciate works from Berlin and the changes the city has faced.
Breadth of study in Berlin
Some cities mask tragedy. Berlin goes a long way to remember the events that have shaped the city and nation by offering up excursions that allow the visitor to reflect, analyse and understand cause and consequence. The beauty of this is students can build a clear picture of the German capital following World War Two, the origins of the Cold War and how it transformed Berlin to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Maximise your time outside the classroom as Berlin becomes a limitless learning environment that will motivate learners and provide the stimulus to delve deeper into discussions on post-war Germany.