Through the Eyes of an Educator: Berlin

Stacey Ebert's picture

As a traveler, I look for the beauty in the everyday. The colourful sunsets, the peace hidden in the whitecap of a wave, and the freedom exuded by children flying high on the swings are all joys of an adventure. As an educator, each time I’ve traveled somewhere new I often found myself thinking, ‘how can I use this in the classroom?’ and ‘ooh, I should buy that for my kids to use in that lesson.’ The teacher in me added another layer to my travels and often shoved me in ways I hadn’t expected. There are so many lessons to be learned outside of the classroom and travel provides some of the very best ones.

The minute I stepped off the plane in Berlin, it hit me. The contradictions were palpable and the lessons tangible. Not only was I in a place that my great aunt came from and escaped during the Holocaust, but also, I knew that the textbook that I used in my eleventh grade US History classroom would be incredibly divergent in its details from one akin to it here. The story may even be exactly the same, but the voices telling it would differ. How wonderful to be able to see a culture firsthand and bring those treasured differences and similarities home.


Berlin Wall line - from Through the Eyes of an Educator: Berlin

Berlin Wall line


History is everywhere in Berlin. It’s hard to miss the meaning behind the artwork on The Wall or the telling signage above your head as you enter into Checkpoint Charlie. For a minute I wished to transport my students here. No books, no document-based questions, and absolutely no tests allowed. Seamless learning would happen as they could witness, exist, and experience the living history showcased in every corner of this beautiful city. Art, talent, trauma, and struggle leap off the cement slabs of history that is today the museum-like structure of the East Side Gallery, the longest standing piece of the Berlin Wall. Piece by piece can be explored as new artwork melds with that of the old and shares lessons of a city that was once torn in two. Memorials around the city thrust visitors back in time as this city pays homage to those whose lives were changed forever by its history.


East Side Gallery - Berlin Wall art

East Side Gallery Wall art


In contrast to the somber memorials, this city bursts with life. In every platz there is a café with delicious treats and people zooming on their way to or from somewhere. The Reichstag, Berlin’s Parliament building, is available for photos and visits to learn more about the government and its systems. The public transport system, the U-bahn, is on an honour system without any turnstiles to jump through to get to the platform - what a fabulous lesson to teach and learn at an early age. Things like this are not ones that would fill the pages of any textbook. This is living history and one that yearns to be shared with those young and old. Travel is one of life’s greatest teachers.


A towering structure, the Brandenburg Gate, the only gate of the Berlin Wall still standing, is filled with travelers taking in the essence of the city. I had family stationed here during the war, so walking through the gates had special meaning for me. Although without question hallowed ground, the mood is jovial unlike other historical sites. For a nominal fee and a bit of a queue, passersby can get a postcard with a variety of passport stamps reminiscent of those who came before them.


Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Brandenburg Gate


How many times have travelers discussed that often the best part of a travel filled day is when something unexpectedly happens or you take the path down a particular road and are met with a positive surprise you would not have otherwise seen? At times, wandering educators and travelers learn the most when they least expect it. In Berlin, even the streetlights provide a lesson. Depending on where in the city you are (whether in the old East or West), the little red or green lighted men tell you when to walk or stop as you cross the street - and I find myself elated when I notice a street sign eliciting part of my last name. History is happening as I travel.


Street sign, Berlin

Check the street sign!


The Holocaust memorial looms across the street, and at first it’s hard to realize what is really there. Equidistant stone slabs tower, one higher than the next, in a maze as onlookers wander through pondering the meaning and photographing their image. Down a few stairs and underground is Berlin’s Holocaust Museum. It is a beautifully designed collection of historical documents, artifacts and stories handled with great care, consideration, love and empathy. Education, reflection, comprehension and stories spread throughout the building and not a dry eye is left on the premises.


Berlin Holocaust Memorial

Holocaust Memorial


As it is with a visit to any city, there’s always more to see than there is time. In a city that held historical significance to my family (in both positives and negatives), I learned to love, respect, and enjoy every moment I spent there, and if offered the opportunity to return I would happily accept. Perhaps, as an educator, I find meaning behind things that are otherwise hidden. Either way, learning through travel is one of life’s greatest gifts and one that I wish for every child.




Stacey Ebert is a traveler at heart who met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New Zealand. Stacey was an extracurricular advisor and taught history in a Long Island public high school for over fifteen years, enjoying both the formal and informal educational practices. After a one year 'round the world honeymoon, travel and its many gifts changed her perspective. She has since left the educational world to focus on writing and travel. She is energetic and enthusiastic about long term travel, finding what makes you happy and making the leap. In her spare time she is an event planner, yogi, dark chocolate lover, and spends as much time as possible with her toes in the sand. Check out her website at for more of her travel musings.


All photos courtesy and copyright Stacey Ebert and Mathew Higgins




History is everywhere in Berlin - but this city also bursts with life.

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