D Block Berlin Exchange 2018
The return leg of the annual Berlin exchange took place during the Lent Long Leave. Four Etonians took part and as ever it proved to be a most worthwhile experience for all concerned. The boys were excellent ambassadors not only for the school but also for themselves, and it was a genuine pleasure to be with them wherever we went. All of my German colleagues commented on the boys’ positive attitudes, their interest in all that we did, the impressive quality of their spoken language and the way in which they really tried to speak as much German as possible.
My colleagues at the Hermann-Ehlers school had organised the usual varied and interesting programme for us and our boys were able to attend a couple of lessons during the course of the week. Whenever we ventured out into the city itself the boys were great and highly entertaining company; there really was never a dull moment. There were plenty of opportunities during the week to visit Berlin landmarks such as the Brandenburg Gate, Unter den Linden, the Holocaust Memorial, KaDeWe, Checkpoint Charlie, the Ku’damm and Potsdamer Platz. We visited the Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church with its striking bombed tower left as a ruin after WW2, although it was rather busy as it was Ash Wednesday. I think the boys were all amazed by the beautiful blue light from the myriad stained glass windows inside the new church. I hope the boys were able to appreciate the differences between the former East and West, so apparent still in the architectural styles. We certainly covered a lot of ground, be it on foot, by bus or underground.
Various highlights this year included an informative guided tour of the impressive Reichstag building. We enjoyed stunning views from Norman Foster’s glass dome over the city in almost dazzling sunlight. For our tour of the Olympic Stadium, built for the 1936 games, we had a very enthusiastic guide who knew his stuff not only concerning the Nazi history of the building but also when it came to sport. We were allowed into the footballers’ dressing rooms and admired the running track, famously coloured blue for the Herta Berlin football team. A personal favourite for me and the boys was the stunning panorama of the Berliner Mauer by artist Asisi – unbelievably realistic.
Our visit to the Bernauer Straße Berlin Wall memorial in arctic conditions was a thought-provoking and sobering one, and I was proud of how much our boys knew about the Cold War period when quizzed by our guide. The Haus am Checkpoint Charlie museum provided further insight into this era. The boys all loved going up the famous East German TV tower, which affords incredible views over Berlin, and we were once again blessed with blue skies and bright sunshine. Kaffee und Kuchen in the revolving café went down a treat and helped to dispel the vertigo before we headed off to the Berliner Dom.
The boys were interested and motivated throughout, keen to speak German and to learn new phrases or slang expressions, and much laughter was to be heard between the exchange partners. As ever, plenty of photos were taken and Berlin specialities such as Currywurst sampled with enthusiasm. Indeed, German food in general proved to be a real hit for some and I was constantly amazed by the boys’ ability to consume such large quantities! This year we managed to win the traditional football match between the two schools again, and it was once again proved that football is indeed a world language judging by the banter between the two sides. As we were winning 34 – 6 by half time, some diplomatic shuffling of the teams took place.
I hope that some will stay in contact with their partners and organise private holidays of their own in the future. Over the week-end, boys were taken out and about by their host families who all spoke most highly of them. They went to great lengths to look after our boys and put on various trips, even to Potsdam and Dresden.
Overall this was a hugely enjoyable trip for all concerned and my special thanks go to Frau Birgit Seelhorst for her organisation and friendship. We hope that this exchange will continue to run so successfully for many years to come.