Tag Archives: History

City Adventures in Berlin

Given the huge amount of history contained within this European city, it’s really no surprise that there is an incredible number of museums to visit in Berlin and somewhat understandably, by the end of our penultimate day, both children were beginning to grumble about feeling a little “museum-ed” out. We were lucky to enjoy some glorious sunshine whilst we were there, so we took every opportunity available to venture out on foot as well as making using of the “hop-on, hop-off” bus and highly efficient public transit system. I think (hope) we managed a good balance between those museums with exhibits about Nazi Germany and those about the Cold War era and it was great to hear G being able to explain in more detail some of the topics she has learned about at school. Here’s a list of some of our city adventures in Berlin this May:

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe: A strangely effective and emotive memorial built within 5 minutes walk of the Brandenburg Gate. These 2,711 concrete slabs vary in size and shape and are constructed on undulating ground, which once formed part of the “death strip” that split the city into East and West by the Berlin Wall. There is no attributed significance to the number or design of this memorial, but instead it intends to invoke a sense of unease as you wander through the rows. Beneath the memorial, there is an information centre, which contains details and memories of some of the Jewish families affected by the horrors of the Holocaust from 1933 on. Unfortunately, the centre was closed on the day we visited and we didn’t have time to go back, but it is somewhere I’d be keen to revisit if we had the chance.

DDR Museum: Located on the banks of the River Spree, the DDR museum details life in East Germany under Socialist rule and is a fantastic interactive experience, which M really enjoyed. It looks at all aspects of everyday life from school and work to holidays, transport, national service and beyond. M was particularly taken by the opportunity to try his hand at driving the Trabant P601 simulation, whilst G spent a long time at the interactive desk which gave in-depth information about different parts of the political history of Berlin. My Grandad came from Czechoslovakia to the UK as part of the Allied forces during the war years and I found that the exhibits invoked many memories of how my grandparents lived, albeit in Northamptonshire, as well as of my first trip to Czechoslovakia in 1988 to visit our family who still live there. A great museum which kept us busy for between 2 and 3 hours.

Palace of Tears: This tiny museum is one we almost missed, but is definitely worth dedicating at least an hour to wander through it. It is based in the former border crossing point at the Berlin Friedrichstraße station, which was only used for those leaving East Berlin for West Berlin. It covers the timeline from the building of the Berlin Wall to its collapse, looking at the stories relating to the checkpoint as well as the process to achieve the reunification of the country. M and I spent some time watching the video of the fall of the Berlin Wall and talking about the fact that this event was living history for me – something that I remember happening during my childhood when I was about his age.

Jewish Museum: This was one of the museums recommended to us by G’s history teacher, but unfortunately the permanent exhibition is currently closed as it is being redeveloped. However, we spent the morning seeing what was open to the public and it was definitely time well-spent. Split over a couple of floors, we first visited the Holocaust exhibit, which displayed mementos, letters and photos from many Jewish families and relayed some of their history as well as detailing whether they died in a concentration camp or were fortunate enough to survive that terror. From there, we ventured outside through a memorial garden, before heading back in to the “A is for Jewish” interactive exhibit, which talks about the many varying aspects of contemporary Jewish life in Germany. Finally, we walked through the “Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves)” art installation, where you quite literally walk on 10,000 sheet steel faces of varying sizes symbolising all innocent victims of war and violence.

Mauer Museum at Checkpoint Charlie: This was one of the surprise hits of our holiday and one that we wouldn’t have visited if it hadn’t been for my insistence that I wanted to go to see Checkpoint Charlie on foot and our need for something to occupy our unplanned afternoon. Filled with an absolutely incredible amount of exhibits, it started with a look at the story of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish businessman who is thought to have saved thousands of Jews from Nazi-occupied Hungary during the Holocaust before he disappeared in 1945 and was presumed to have died whilst imprisoned by the KGB, although there have been very many question marks surrounding the circumstances, and timing, of his death. Upstairs the exhibit moved through very many escape stories from East Germany, which absolutely fascinated M, not least of which was the armoured escape vehicle on display. There is also a huge area dedicated to human rights and worldwide civil unrest, including Ukraine and North Korea. An absolutely fascinating museum and one that you could easily spend a day, or more, exploring.

German Spy Museum: The unquestionable highlight of all the museums we visited in Berlin and it got a definite thumbs up from both children. Starting with a timeline of the development of espionage worldwide through the ages, this museum blends its interactive experience with a particular focus of espionage during the Cold War era. The main exhibit was divided between East and West Berlin and how spies played a part on both sides for many years. The laser maze gives visitors the opportunity to see if they can successfully work their way through the lasers to reach the abort button before enemy missiles are launched. Sad to say, neither G or M managed it, triggering the alarms as they made their way through it, although they both had great fun trying. There was also a section about fictional spies, most notably 007 himself, James Bond with some memorabilia and clips from several of the films. We hadn’t left ourselves enough time to see everything this museum had to offer as we had to head back to the airport for our flight home, so it’s definitely one to revisit in the future.

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Bringing History Lessons to Life in Berlin

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m a big fan of holidays. Not just the trips themselves, but I absolutely love the process from the moment we start thinking about the perfect destination to pick and, much to Mike’s frustration, can frequently be found thinking about where we should travel next, even before we’ve left home on the next one booked. We haven’t done too much travelling since our trip back to Canada last summer, but no sooner had G and I got home from our fantastic day out at the Strictly tour, than it was time to finish the packing and zip up the suitcase for our 5 day half-term break.

Our holiday was perhaps not what people expected, in that we weren’t chasing the sun with a few days at the beach, even though both G and M are desperate to go back to Greece and mention it every time they can possibly shoehorn it into any conversation. Instead, we had taken inspiration from G’s GCSE history syllabus and her learning about Superpower relations, the Cold War and Nazi Germany during the inter-War years, subjects which also happen to tie in quite nicely with M’s focus on World War 1 in his history lessons this year; and so headed to Berlin. As the children have got older, we try to involve them more and more with planning our activities whilst we’re aware from home and this trip was no different. G spoke to her history teacher just after Christmas as the school had taken a group of their A-level students to Berlin a few weeks earlier and came home with some recommendations of the best places to visit to help solidify her learning and understanding of these eras.

Armed with that information as well as the additional research Mike had carried out in the preceding weeks, we had plenty to do to fill our time and couldn’t wait to get started. I had found what looked like a great place to stay: the Citadines Kurfürstendamm Berlin apart-hotel, meaning that we had access to a full kitchen which always makes life a little easier when travelling with food allergies. We were ideally located not too far from the main retail street and within easy walking distance to not only shops and restaurants, but also the Berlin U-Bahn, or Underground rapid transit system.

Our first day started, as it so often does when we travel to a new city, with a “Hop-on, hop-off” bus tour, although we weren’t as impressed with the City Circle Tour offering as we have been with other tour companies we’ve chosen in the past. However, it gave us a great introduction to the city of Berlin itself and helped us work out how to get to the various sights on our list as well as ticking a few of them off without too much hassle. Both G and M were fascinated by their first view of the few remaining remnants of the Berlin Wall, the Brandenburg Gate and the bombed remains of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, all of which really brought their history lessons to life.

The Hunt for Nessie…and other adventures

Inverness was the location for yet another flying visit on our whistle-stop tour of Scotland, but was one we all enjoyed hugely and it even saw both children expressing a surprising yearning to move North as they gazed at properties in the estate agents’ windows. Inverness itself was not the primary focus of our visit, but rather nearby Loch Ness, which M insisted was a place we absolutely couldn’t even consider missing out when we were practically passing right by the proverbial doorstep. Our time spent there was tight, but we managed to squeeze in everything we wanted to do and even found an unexpected bonus before we left again to travel on to our next destination.

It was whilst we were in Inverness that the snow that had been dogging our every step finally caught up with us, but it didn’t spoil our morning’s trip to Culloden, the site of the final battle of the Jacobite rising in 1745. Despite M’s reluctant traipse around the visitor centre itself, the rest of us enjoyed the interactive displays which carefully talked the visitor through both sides of the story and depicted the events that led to the final battle. It is not a part of British history that either Mike or the children really knew at all and I enjoyed brushing up on my rather scant knowledge too. Mike and G took their time reading the displays, whilst M and I moved at his usual faster pace as I desperately tried to cut through all the facts to capture his interest in the story itself.

Being the Easter holidays, there were some great children-friendly activities available for younger visitors and they appealed to both M and G, who were fascinated to learn more about the weapons used during the battle as well as glimpsing a small insight into the household essentials of the time. We even participated in the family orientated quiz that was held in the last exhibition space and M proved once again that although he moves fast, he’s able to pick up a surprising amount of information in a short space of time and was able to answer with ease questions that left the rest of our side scratching our heads. Once we had finished exploring all that the museum had to offer on the inside, it was time to wrap up warm and venture out onto the snowy battlefield itself. Despite the grey skies and intermittent snowfall, we managed to make our way all around the site, although the return journey back to the warmth was at speed. Neither child had been particularly interested in visiting Culloden in the first place, so to make a full morning of it counted as a real success in our book!

We enjoyed a picnic lunch in the car as we travelled from Culloden to Loch Ness itself and stopped en route to take a few snaps of the beautiful scenery we were passing. Our destination for the afternoon was the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition, which talked us through the history of Nessie and all of the scientific (and otherwise) investigations into whether she really exists. The children had the chance to investigate the photographs and evidence themselves and drew their own conclusions about whether the Loch Ness monster really exists. It was a fun and interesting exhibition and I particularly enjoyed the last room, which talked about other incidents and discoveries in the Loch Ness area, rather than focus on Nessie herself. A quick jaunt through the gift shop heralded the end of our day out and we headed back to the hotel for some much-needed sleep before moving on once again for the final destination on our tour of Scotland.

School – the hospital way

One of my favourite memories of our pre-admission waiting time is when I asked M to tell my Mum what was going to happen once he was in hospital.  I had, of course, expected him to explain, in depth, all he knew about the NG-tube and the pellet study, but roared with laughter when he said, in a small voice lacking in any great enthusiasm, “…hospital school…”

indexThe first few days of our stay were dominated by the administration of  the huge amounts of powerful laxatives and M felt so unwell that he refused to move from his bed.  By the end of that first Sunday, however, the tedium of not being allowed off hospital premises had taken its toll and he was keen to head off to school on Monday morning.  The hospital school accepts that the children may not be able to attend a “full” day there and is happy for any child to be there for as long as they are able to manage.  Each day is split into 2 sessions:  10am to 12.30pm and 2pm to 3.30pm.  They cover the basics of maths, literacy and science, but also throw in other subjects such as IT, art and even PE.

indexI discussed with the teacher there all of M’s needs concerning his dyspraxia and dyslexia and we talked about all he’d been learning so far at his home school.  He was one of just 4 children in the Key Stage 2 group during his admission and was able to have a huge amount of one-to-one teaching as there were 4 teachers able to work with the group.  They tackled his lack of enthusiasm for literacy by signing him on to the “Bug Club“, an on-line learning resource which tested his reading comprehension skills.  Each time he was able to read a new passage and answer the questions correctly about what he had read, he received a virtual sticker and was moved on to the next text.  He was set up with his own username and password to monitor the development he was making in class and what’s even better is that they have given us all the details needed for continuing with it at home.

M's amazing chocolate Christmas creation

M’s amazing chocolate Christmas creation

Every morning, M was keen to get up, get ready and get down to the classroom for the start of the school day.  I have never seen him so keen to arrive at school and start working! He had a busy week there and he enjoyed every single moment of it.  From History with the Victoria and Albert Museum to Cookery with the Executive Head Chef of the Hilton Hotel, it was a school week unlike any other.  He even took part in the school’s carol concert in the GOSH chapel, where he read part of the Christmas story.  It proved to be a great distraction from everything else that was going on medically and an amazing opportunity for those children who have to stay in hospital.