A TOP Experience

Brandenburg Tor
Selfie at the Brandenburg Gate.

We all know that travel can enrich our teaching, provide us with experiences that we bring back to our students to will help them to better grasp historical events and far flung locales. This fall I’m bringing Germany back to my students.

Mid-July and hot as an oven outside with just under a month until we report back for another school year. Hopefully you’ve had the opportunity to spend some time with your family and probably too the opportunity to partake of some professional development. If you stayed close to home I bet you checked out a Kansas Impact Institute, #ksedcamp and/or Podstock.  If you decided to go a little farther afield you likely spent a week or three with the National Endowment for the Humanities, a Gilder-Lehrman or any number of programs provided by foundations and museums around the country.

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This summer, I had the honor of being selected a TOP Fellow. If you haven’t heard of the Transatlantic Outreach Program, please check them out; if you’ve attended one of their workshops or their reception at NCSS – you need to apply! TOP sends six groups of educators to Germany every summer for two week tours that are truly extraordinary. Every tour is tailored  to the interests of the selected educators and lovingly crafted by one of the TOP employees who will guide your trip.

Over two weeks and five cities I was afforded experiences that will take me a while to unpack (literally and figuratively). Most of the time when you get to travel, you do your best to hit some of the key points of interest and probably do some research to find a couple of places off the beaten path. This beauty of this trip is its access to places that the average tourist doesn’t get to see. In order to keep this blog-sized, I’m going to focus on the division between East and West Germany.

Care package
The witness who shared with us said the smell of these care packages were such a big part of the memory she recreated one.

Everyone (and it does seem like everyone) goes by Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, our group got to visit the Point Alpha Memorial in central Germany near the town of Geisa. One of the American checkpoints during the division, you can see what the border looked like and get the view from the American observation post. The House on the Border contains exhibits that tell the story of how the wall divided families and those who risked crossing. We got to hear from a woman who lived in former East Germany recount her experiences and how much the care packages sent from relatives in the West. It’s not all political, there’s a great display upstairs geared toward children that examines how the border created a green zone that allowed native wildlife to flourish.

Berlin Wall 1961-1989
Marker for the former location of the Wall.

While you’re in Berlin, the former location of the wall is marked throughout the city, but you really must try to make it to the Berlin Wall Memorial. This outdoor memorial is a thoughtful exploration of how the Wall split a city. The open space includes an excavation of where houses once stood, along with video clips of how people used these houses to escape to the West before they were demolished. A few of the buildings along the memorial have billboard-like pictures on their side showing how the streets once looked. A key element of the Memorial are the portraits of the 139 people who died at the wall, some of these individuals are also memorialized with plaques on the ground to mark the location of their death.

Berlin Wall Memorial
Part of the memorial on the location of the Wall; the green space is preserved as the no man’s land between barricades.

These were only two of the locations we visited, I’ll unpack others in additional posts and for my students throughout the upcoming year. I hope you’ve had the opportunity this summer to find some experiences of your own to bring back to your students.

About Kori Green

I teach 8th grade social studies at El Dorado Middle School in El Dorado, KS. I enjoy U.S. history, dabble in British history, and love incorporating technology in the classroom.

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