GDST girls around the world- Ellen Bridson

Ellen Bridson, Birkenhead

Ellen enjoys strolling around the city in between museum visits

“The experience of travelling to Berlin and Krakow this summer was even more enriching than I had anticipated when writing my proposal. An important part of our trip was visiting places of historical and political significance as a means to delve into the events we had learnt about over the last few years; undoubtedly, we were thoroughly enthralled by the histories of these prominent European cities. Nevertheless, during our trip I began to understand that European history is not merely a collection of facts but an intrinsic part of the cities we were walking through.

Ellen was impressed by how Germany sensitively deals with its past

Whilst in Berlin we embarked on the Third Reich walking tour, which we found fascinating and included many of the places we were eager to visit. It was valuable to hear about important historical and political events from the perspective of an experienced guide who lived in Berlin. It was moments such as this that affirmed to me that underneath the complexities of competing ideologies and the war they create, suffering is felt on all sides and must not be ignored when looking to the past. In keeping with this sentiment, we also visited the thoughtfully designed Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the Memorial to the Roma and Sinti Victims of National Socialism. They exemplified to me the sensitivity and candour with which Germany has approached its tumultuous past, something I feel the rest of the western world should learn from.

On our first full day in Poland we visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp- an experience that is hard to describe on paper. I remain firm in my belief that it is important to share history with others as a means of fostering discussion and tolerance, however I found visiting Auschwitz- Birkenau to be a deeply personal experience- one that is difficult to express in a perspicuous way. I had many preconceptions that it would be a ‘life-changing’ experience and in many ways it was, though not in the revelatory way I had expected. The Holocaust is possibly the most well-known genocide in history, taught throughout school- visiting Auschwitz, therefore, did not feel as though I was learning anything ‘new’ as such. More overriding was the truly harrowing feeling of being in the very place where such atrocities occurred; I find that there are often instances where history is dramatised to increase its appeal to the public, in documentaries for example, yet the significance of being in Auschwitz-Birkenau for me was the complete absence of this, the lack of drama or ‘glamorous’ story telling. Walking past endless display cases of thousands of people’s possessions, I realised that the simplicity of the presentation gave no indication of how this was supposed to affect me (there is very little writing and the rooms are virtually empty), it simply placed before me the truth of the matter, that 11 million people were horrifically murdered without cause. It was a desolate reminder that it is not difficult for humanity to sink to its lowest depths, that although figures of history are often portrayed as though they are characters from a film, they are as human as we are, therefore it is terrifyingly easy for their actions to be repeated.

Our experience of the cultural and historical aspects of both Berlin and Krakow will stay with me indefinitely, but they were not the only things I learnt more about from travelling. In just a week from now I will make my endeavour to university, and I have undoubtedly become better equipped to tackle the challenges I will surely face over the coming years. Admittedly, one of the more challenging parts of my travels was successfully using the laundrettes abroad- which took several attempts. My trip has adjusted my overly enthusiastic perception of budgeting and taught me to never take for granted Google maps. Most of all, I think that my travels helped me to develop a great capacity to socialise, which will certainly be put to use as I start university. All in all, my trip was so much more than I had anticipated; it was interesting and challenging in more ways than I could have imagined, and I am extremely grateful to the GDST for supporting me. The experience allowed me to build on what I have learnt at BHSA, as well as teaching me skills I could not possibly have learnt in the classroom. I am excited to continue history and politics at university and I will be sure to take any opportunity I get to travel again.”