30th Lange Nacht der Museen – Highlights

February 3, 2012

Food, Germany

So, last weekend saw the winter edition of Berlin’s Lange Nacht der Museen (Long Night of Museums). As I mentioned in August, Berlin is the mother of all long museum nights, since they were the first to get the ball rolling. In fact, they are so keen here, that they hold the event twice a year, on the last Saturday in January and August. This time around was a particularly special occasion, celebrating the 30th Lange Nacht and the 300th birthday of Frederick the Great. I was on the museum prowl with my brother, who had come over from the other side of Germany just for the occasion, and after comparing notes and finding were our communal interests lay, we headed out in a flurry of Berlin’s first snow this winter, in to what would turn out to be a great night.

First on our agenda was the Anti-Kriegs Museum* (Engl: Anti-War Museum) & museum visit #6/2012 for me. It’s run by the grandson of the original founder and a group of volunteers, and its aim is to document war events and peace work through its permanent displays and a series of special exhibitions. We watched a 13 minute documentary about the history of the museum, and visited an original air raid bunker with one of the very knowledgable guides, who gave a 15 minute talk in situ about its use during the war. A nice touch was that the staff had baked cookies for the visitors following post war recipes, where certain ingredients were rationed and people had to be more creative in their baking. I particularly enjoyed the macaroon recipe, where the flour had been replaced with oats. Perfect for someone who avoids wheat in their baking anyway. Helpfully, they had printed out the recipes alongside, so I noted it down:

Ingredients: 200-250g sugar; 2 tablespoons milk; 1 tablespoon cocoa powder; 1 teaspoon butter; 5-8 tablespoons oats; rum aroma (optional)

Directions: Combine all the ingredients except for the oats in a saucepan and heat until evenly melted, then add the oats and bring to the boil; Spoon the warm mixture onto a baking tray and leave to dry.

Our second stop of the night was at the Zucker Museum* (Engl: Sugar Museum), museum visit #7/2012, which I’d been wanting to visit ever since it featured in Adopt-a-Museum. We slithered our way there through the growing blanket of snow, and were greeted inside the entrance by a candy floss maker who was handing our free candy floss to the visitors. What a nice welcome – yummy! There was also a praline making activity, but that was just for children. The Zucker Museum tells the story of sugar, from its early colonial history and the later discovery of sugar beets, through its agriculture and processing procedures, to its rise from a luxury item to a mass product, in all its modern day forms and by products. The chemistry behind sugar, and its central role in alcohol production, complete the story.

Next up was the Museum für Naturkunde (Engl: Natural History Museum), already becoming an old favourite for me – I think it was my fourth visit, or #8/2012 – and the first time for my brother. After a stop at the picnic area for some hearty Berliner potato soup, we looked around the really interesting gallery which introduces all the different kinds of taxidermy and other natural history exhibits and how they are prepared, from mammals and birds, through to fish casts and insects. Then, while my brother had a longer look around the ‘Evolution in Aktion’ gallery, which included everything from penguins and zebras to snails’ shells and mutated animals in jars, I treated myself to a cocktail in the dinosaur hall, in the shadow of the world’s tallest mounted dinosaur skeleton. The museum had put on a really jam packed programme for this special night, and before we left we also listened to a Barock quartet ensemble, watched an ‘amber cinema’ performance, and made badges with our specimen names – mine was ‘Lupes musae’, the museum fox ;-)

With time racing towards midnight by now, we made our way to the Königliche Porzellan Manufaktur* (Engl: Royal Porcelain Manufacture), which was a really interesting place. It’s still in working production, so they have a huge sales floor, but there is also the permanent exhibition ‘KPM Welt’ (museum visit #9/2012), which takes you on a tour of the manufacture’s history since it was acquired by Frederick the Great in 1763, the different stages of porcelain production, and at the end there were some of the sculptors and painters demonstrating their skills and open to questions.

Our last visit for the evening was to Schloss Charlottenburg (Engl: Charlottenburg Palace), museum visit #10/2012, to see the New Wing, which was almost completely destroyed in November 1943 during one of the heaviest bombing raids on Berlin, and later restored. The New Wing houses two lavish halls dripping with gold embellishments, the first and second apartments of Frederick the Great, and the Winter Apartment of Queen Luise of Prussia. On a past visit I’d been to see the other wing, which personally I found more interesting, but it was still impressive to see and a nice finish to the evening, as we left with 5 minutes to spare before the night reached its close at 2am and the last shuttle bus headed back to the Kulturforum, the hub of the Lange Nacht der Museen. The Kulturforum was actually remaining open until 4am, with music, food, cocktails, and access to the Gemäldegalerie (Engl: Picture Gallery), which exhibits Old Master paintings. Unfortunately there had been a misunderstanding, and the gallery was only accessible via guided tours, of which we had just missed one, so we decided to call it a night and head back home.

Despite the freezing cold it was a great evening, actually, crunching through the snow made it even more atmospheric, and it was even better being able to do it in company this time. Full of wartime cookies and cotton candy, potato soup and dinosaur cocktails, I fell into my bed exhausted at exactly 4am. I know some people are sceptical about the value of visiting museums that are overcrowded with Lange Nacht visitors, or cramming too many into one night to fully appreciate them all, but I just can’t wait until the next one in August!

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* I’ll write fuller accounts of the individual museums that I visited for the first time at a later date.

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