United in remembrance
What was the cultural importance of the Christmas Truce 1914? During a joint Anglo-German project, the pupils found their personal answers to this question and re-thought their attitude towards history and the 'arch enemy'.
Was war die kulturelle Bedeutung des Weihnachtsfriedens 1914? Während eines gemeinsamen deutsch-britischen Pojekts haben Schüler ihre persönlichen Antworten zu dieser Frage gefunden und ihre eigene Einstellung zur Geschichte und dem ‘Erzfeind’ hinterfragt.
Challenging history - changing perspective
Mildenhall College Academy and Gymnasium Theodoranium met to challenge historical concepts during their project on the 1914 Christmas Truce: "We were anxious to challenge the 'us versus them' perception that many of our students had of the First World War, and to focus instead on the shared suffering of soldiers on both sides. Additionally, we felt that a 'comparative' German angle would situate our investigation of the local impact in Mildenhall within a 'bigger picture' of the war. It would challenge our students to assess the nature and extent of similarities and differences between the experiences of a locality in Britain and a locality in Germany." (Richard Kerridge and Sacha Cinnamond, 'Talking with the "enemy": firing enthusiasm for history through international conversation and cooperation' in Teaching History 148: 2012, p. 10)
By creating a Christmas Truce memorial, the groups transcended the boundaries between past, present and future: their present cultural collaboration reflected the situation during the Christmas Truce and set a sign for future remembrance. Besides working on their social and language skills and their knowledge of history, the pupils increased their intercultural competence as well as their international awareness. Challenging stereotypes of the past led them to dismantle cultural (mis)conceptions and to gain a greater awareness of post-war Europe. By building a bridge to present-day European politics, they turned historical awareness into a topic with current and future relevance, showing how crucial peace in Europe is.
Designing a memorial: a tribute to the past…
After many video conferences between their history classes, English and German students met during a trip to the memorials in Ypres, Belgium. Investigating memorials and cemeteries on both sides led them to consider the philosophy of remembrance, and it served as inspiration for the project. Trips to London's memorials, visits to historic WWI sites and research on historic resources culminated in plans for designing an individual memorial to pay tribute to the Christmas Truce. This was crafted together in Paderborn for final display in Belgium: a sign of peace and friendship between the countries.
…and a cornerstone for a joint future
The project fired enthusiasm for studying history through international collaboration. Analysing the nature of commemoration brought a deeper understanding of war sacrifices and memorial culture. It made the students adapt a new historical understanding that goes beyond stereotypes. Media coverage and joint activities such as ceremonies and video broadcasts extended its impact to the wider public. The project changed the department itself as it not only brought different subjects, forms and teachers together but, above all, different cultures. The link between Germany and England and the memorial served as a cornerstone: for memory, cultural cooperation, peace and a lasting intercultural friendship.
"We are making a monument that will be around for hundreds of years." (English participant)