Berlin and Krakow

In December the Upper V and Lower VI History and Art students enjoyed six days in Berlin and Krakow – a great way to start the Christmas holidays. Art and History joined forces to create an inspiring and intellectually stimulating cross-curricular itinerary that involved visits to places of historical, political and cultural significance.  In addition, this visit provided a wonderful occasion for Upper V and Lower VI to get to know each other better, with friendships developing across the year groups.

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Berlin visits included a very informative and thought provoking tour of the Stasi Prison, learning about the treatment of political prisoners of post WW2 communist East Germany. We left with a very good understanding of the psychological and physical effects which people had endured due to their decision to oppose the regime. Girls also experienced both a night walk to the top of the Reichstag building’s dome, designed by Norman Foster and then surprise elevenses in the glamorous Reichstag restaurant with spectacular views over the whole of central Berlin. The gateaux, you will be reassured to know, were of the highest quality.

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A short walk from the hotel to the Hamburger Bahnhof Gallerie, set in a 19th Century railway station, gave students the opportunity to view exceptional modern works of Art, including Andy Warhol’s Elvis and Chairman Mao, as well as a number of experimental audio-visual art installations.

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Students also visited the Neues Museum, with its extraordinary world famous bust of Nefertiti, deemed to be the world’s most beautiful woman, as well as treasures from Troy excavated by the German archaeologist Schliemann.

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To further the girls’ understanding of the effect of the Nazi regime on the Jewish people of Europe we also toured the Wannsee Villa museum, where the “Final Solution of the Jewish question”, to murder all European Jews, was carefully planned in euphemistic and starkly clinically inhuman terms by senior Nazi officials.

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In the evenings the girls and staff visited the Christmas markets and sampled local delicacies such as the bratwurst!

A short flight to Krakow gave students further opportunities to explore Polish culture and to further broaden their knowledge beyond their exam syllabuses. The first day involved a visit to the Schindler factory museum, just across the River Vistula from Krakow’s Old Town, which in fact provides a very detailed and informative display of aspects of life for Poles in Krakow under Nazi occupation, with the focus on children in schools and on life in the Jewish ghetto. We ended our first day in Krakow meandering its beautiful streets, marvelling at its well preserved medieval, renaissance and baroque architecture in its wonderful town square, punctuated by the sound of the trumpeter’s hourly playing from the tower of St Mary’s Church (Kosciol Mariacki.)

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Visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau, was a poignant and harrowing reminder of the genocide committed there, involving Polish political prisoners, Jews and other groups the Nazis wanted to remove from society. Our guide had had family members who had miraculously survived the camp which gave us all additional personal insight into the unimaginably difficult conditions endured by camp inmates. Such experiences made us all very conscious of just how lucky we all are and reminded us all to be grateful for what we have. We were fortunate to then meet a Holocaust survivor in the Galicia Jewish Museum who, despite her experiences, had the utmost faith in mankind and optimism for the future. Having been placed in the care of Polish nuns by her Jewish mother and father as a baby, in order to increase her chance of survival, she was adopted by young Polish Catholics, who knew about her Jewish ancestry and the dangers that would befall them should the authorities discover this.

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All the girls (and staff) found Monika’s account of her experiences enormously moving and thought provoking. Evenings were spent exploring the wonderful amber jewellery and wooden crafts – all very typical of a Polish Christmas Market and its renaissance Cloth Hall (Sukiennice), and, of course, wonderful street food to fuel the experience.

The staff would like to thank the girls for taking such an active interest in all that we did, asking many perceptive and searching questions and for maintaining their good humour and enthusiasm throughout after a gruelling Michaelmas Term. They constantly expressed their appreciation and thanks for each visit and took the very busy itinerary in their stride. You did the school proud and were wonderful ambassadors for St Augustine’s; even the air hostesses complimented you on your behaviour and practical help on the British Airways flight back to Heathrow!

Ms Trybuchowska (with thanks to Mr Murphy and Ms Gandi and to Mrs Daly and Mrs Vymeris in the Bursary and Ms Roberts, school nurse for all their pre-trip help and support.)

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