From Jan. 7-12, for the second time in Pace history students led by Mr. Hornor and Mr. Smith traveled to Berlin and Munich, Germany on a Global Education Trip. The group visited some of the most famous historical sites in the country, including Frederick the Great’s Potsdam Palace, Neuschwanstein Castle in the Alps, the Wannsee House, Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Wall, the Philharmonie Orchestra Hall, the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial, and Dachau concentration camp. Senior Alex Miller praised the variety of history and culture they were exposed to, citing modern European culture, the environment of a post-Soviet society, Holocaust history, history of enlightened despotism, and his studies in art history as examples. “The huge range of subjects covered on the trip made it well worth the price of admission,” he said. Junior Joey Capelouto said that the most fascinating part of the trip was seeing the bust of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti in a museum.
Along with history, the students learned about social customs. “The food there is totally different,” said senior Naomi Guillaume. Junior Maria Moraitakis observed that German people tend to “eat lots of pretzels and sausage and drink lots of beer.” At German restaurants, free commodities that Americans take for granted, such as drink refills, ice, and bread baskets, actually cost money. “The best way to truly get a taste of German food is by ordering random food off the German menus and by eating at the cheap food stands in Eastern Berlin,” said Joey. He described their clothing as being “typical of Europeans,” noting that most of them wore clothing without enough protection for the cold weather “in order to look stylish.” Mr. Hornor, who lived in Germany until he was seven and a half, added that most Americans would be surprised to know that Germans have a good sense of humor and are friendly, qualities that are not usually shown in World War II movies, something Joey also noticed. “They seemed interested in our group and would come up and ask questions about us,” he said. Almost all of the Germans spoke perfect English, some “better than Americans,” Mr. Hornor said.
The students spent a lot of time walking from place to place, navigating the German streets. “Everything ends in ‘platz,'” Maria joked. She described East Berlin as being “gloomy,” but added that West Berlin was like a German equivalent of New York City. Junior Rem Lebow agreed that the western side was more pleasant. “In Eastern Berlin, the typical street contained a combination of graffiti, trash on the ground, and the smell of fresh cigarette smoke. In the western side, there was very little trash, no graffiti, and much less smoke,” he said. This has a lot to do with Germany’s history. Before the Berlin Wall was torn down, the eastern side of Germany was controlled by the Soviets. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the eastern side has been forced to catch up to the more advanced West. The group stayed in a hostel in Kreuzberg in East Berlin, but visited Charlottenburg in West Berlin, allowing them to truly see the difference between the two sides. “I think it was a good demonstration that history is absolutely pregnant in every square block of Germany,” Mr. Hornor said.
One of the more profound sites the group saw was Dachau concentration camp, the first one built that served as a model for the camps that followed. Alex described the experience as “sobering.” He said, “It played such a crucial role in the terrible crime that was the Holocaust, that to see it up close was strange, as if something like that shouldn’t exist.” Joey agreed that seeing the the horrors of the Holocaust in real life was “painful,” but he added that it was “gratifying to spit on Hitler’s bunker.” Mr. Hornor emphasized the importance of Dachau specifically as a concentration camp. “Dachau is so much more than what we typically associate it with,” he said. Not only was it the first camp, but it also continued to be used for ex-Nazis and later displaced Germans after the end of the war.
Along with Dachau, Mr. Hornor thought that the other two most fascinating sites were the Philharmonie and Frederick the Great’s palace at Potsdam called the Sencoussi. The Philharmonic Orchestra’s hall, called the Philharmonie, is unique in its layout. The orchestra pit is in the center surrounded by the audience, which Mr. Hornor explained is “symbolic of democracy.” With a location so close to the Berlin Wall, the hall became “an icon of the West, of freedom, of liberty, of music,” he said. Mr. Hornor also enjoyed seeing the Sencoussi palace of Prussian king Frederick the Great, a site he did not visit on last year’s trip. The palace was built in response to the Bourbon Palace in Versailles and is decorated in the Rococo style. He described the architecture and artwork of the palace as “beautiful” and “very impressive.”
Unlike more tourist-friendly countries such as France and England, Germany is a country most people never get an opportunity to visit. “People sign up because they know it’s not a trip they’ll take otherwise,” Mr. Hornor said. He added that Germany, along with China, was well on its way to becoming a leader in foreign affairs, citing Germany’s high GDP and the German funds that are currently bailing out countries during the Euro debt crisis. The students all agreed that they would recommend this trip to future students, especially those who “are willing to get behind on work,” Joey said. Naomi said that she would recommend the trip “one hundred percent! It was so amazing and such a great opportunity.” The trip afforded the opportunity to see history outlines and textbook pages come to life. Maria said, “I learned more than I could have ever learned in a classroom about Germany and its history.”
By Suzanne Monyak, Staff Writer ’13