{Germany} I spy…a divided Berlin

September 15, 2016

Germany

I first visited asisi’s Panorama ‘Die Mauer’ (Engl: ‘The Wall’) three years ago. Yadegar Asisi, the organisation’s namesake and mastermind behind the panoramas, of which there have been several to date in various German cities, was born in Vienna in 1955 as the son of Persian immigrants. He went to school in Leipzig and later studied architecture in Dresden and then art in Berlin. ‘The Wall’ represents a selection of his experiences in a divided Berlin during the 1980s. Although located at Checkpoint Charlie, the Panorama’s view is actually from a bit further East, between Moritzplatz and the Engelbecken basin – Asisi’s neighbourhood. There is also some artistic licence involved, as some buildings were added or removed to show a better view of a typical neighbourhood, or scenes from Asisi’s personal experiences.

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A while ago, I was contacted by someone from asisi, inviting me to come back for another visit with my family. I had booked a couple of days to spend some quality time with #MuseumBoy before he started school, so the invitation seemed like the perfect thing for us to do together. I have to admit, I did hesitate for a moment. Was the topic too intense for a six year old? But then again, he lives in Berlin. The city’s history is all around him, from the remnants of the Wall you can find scattered throughout Berlin, to the markers in the ground showing its original route. Two years ago we all went together to the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. So he already knew that “there used to be two groups of people in charge of Berlin, who could not agree how to run the city, so they built a wall to make sure everyone stayed in their half”. What we hadn’t spoken so much about was the impact all of this had on the everyday lives of people, but I felt he was ready to hear about it. And he is a bit of a museum veteran anyway, at his young age. So I replied saying we would be happy to accept the invitation.

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The ‘wow’ factor started before we had even stepped inside (see above). The panorama is a massive 15 metres high and 60 metres long, giving a total surface area of 900 square metres, so its sheer size alone is impressive for a six year old. Once we were inside, the first thing #MuseumBoy said was “A Mercedes!”, pointing at one of the cars in the scenes in front of us. That’s my little motorhead for you, lol. We spent some time walking around the Panorama at ground level. One of our favourite museum games is ‘I Spy’, and the Panorama was perfect for this – there was so much so see and spot. As well as passing the time, it also made #MuseumBoy look more closely at what he was seeing, in order to pick things for me to guess, or to guess what I was thinking of. His favourite part of the Panorama was, no surprises there, the scene with the cars at the petrol station (see below). The artwork itself is a collage of painting and photography, with the final version being scanned in to a computer, and digitally printed on to large banners which are then hand sewn together.

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In the middle of the Panorama – which, unlike other asisi panoramas is not actually a full 360° – is a 4m high viewing platform. From there, we had a good look at everything again from above, and watched the Panorama change from day to night and back again a couple of times. We also closed our eyes and listened closely to the audio soundtrack of daily noises, such as traffic. What else could we hear? This turned out to be another great game #MuseumBoy really enjoyed. Mixed in with the daily noises are extracts of historical speeches and snippets from the international press conference in 1961, two months before the Wall went up, but #MuseumBoy wasn’t really that interested in those, which is fair enough. I think it went a bit over his head.

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Something that was more relatable to him, was when we talked about families being separated. He’s just at that age when he really suffers when his grandparents or other relatives he is fond of leave after a visit. When saying goodbye brings on the waterworks before they’ve even left the house, and my ears are ringing with repetitions of ‘when will I next see them?’ by the end of the day. So I asked him to imagine living in a divided Berlin. To imagine that he wouldn’t see Oma and Opa again, for a very long time, maybe for years, because they lived on the other side of the wall. ‘What about in the holidays?’ No. ‘What about on my birthday?’ Nope. ‘Christmas?’ No, not ever. You could really see his little brain ticking away in his head as he thought about this.

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In the vestibule of the Panorama, an accompanying eye witness exhibition with around 200 personal photos submitted by the public, showing daily life around both sides of the Berlin Wall. We looked at some of the photos, and talked about how the Wall went up. He asked about pictures showing big rolls of barbed wire, and I explained that once the people in charge of Berlin decided to build the Wall, they wanted to get started as quickly as possible so they put out the barbed wire first, to show people which side of the city they were allowed in. And that it had caught many people by surprise, who suddenly found themselves cut off from their families, on the wrong side of the barbed wire. ‘Imagine’, I said to him, ‘that one day daddy couldn’t get home from work (his office is just within the borders of the former East Berlin) because he was one side of the barbed wire and we were on the other side. How would that make you feel?’ It would make him feel really, really sad, he said. And that he would probably cry a lot. He’s a pretty compassionate little guy anyway, but I think this exhibition was a real eye opener to him. He knows about the current wars going on, in Syria and other places, and how children his age are affected by it. But learning more about the darker history of the city he calls home, about something that happened, if not within his but within his mummy and daddy’s lifetime, was quite personal. He surmised that grownups ‘are very silly sometimes’ and that ‘people should just be friends’. I couldn’t agree more. And I’m very glad I took him to see ‘The Wall’ Panorama.

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As well as the accompanying exhibition, there is also a video screening showing the process behind how the Panorama and others like it were made. It features Yadegar Asisi himself, talking about his journey from initial idea to the final product, with scenes e.g. of a photo shoot to capture specific scenes, and how the photos are then processed and integrated in to a panorama. #MuseumBoy was absolutely fascinated by this video, and watched it twice from beginning to end.

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Finally, before we left, we left our mark on the graffiti walls, where visitors can share their thoughts about freedom – or just sign their names – in their own words and own language. There are pens supplied in a little holder on the wall (the walls are so colourful by now, the pens are quite well camouflaged and I ended up asking where to find them, lol).

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In conclusion, and considering my initial hesitation, I have no regrets taking my (almost) six year old to see asisi’s Panorama ‘Die Mauer’. Would I recommend it for other children that age? This may sound like a cop out, but it very much depends on your child. #MuseumBoy has been visiting museums of all kinds, from the very traditional to the all singing all dancing, since he was just a few weeks old, so I didn’t doubt that this type of museum would be suitable for him. In terms of the content, as mentioned above, we talk with him about what is happening in the news, from world politics such as the general elections in Germany, the UK and the USA, to wars and conflicts happening around the world (everything obviously rephrased and contextualised in words and ways he can understand at his age). We therefore felt that the topic would not be too advanced for him, especially since it relates directly to the city we live in. So whether you think your child is old enough or mature enough to visit this exhibition lies partly in your estimation as their parent, but I may also add that children age 6+ require a ticket (children under age 6 have free admission), which is partly an indication of the exhibition’s target audience.

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The asisi Panorama ‘Die Mauer’ is open daily from 10am. Full price tickets are 10 Euros, at the time of writing, with concessions for children aged 6-16, students, disabled visitors, families and groups available. Apart from the viewing platform, the rest of the venue is accessible for wheelchairs. Full details on opening times and admission prices can be found on the Panorama’s website.

Many thanks to asisi for inviting us to visit and view the exhibition free of charge. Please note that all views and opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own!


Edit: I’m linking this post to the new monthly #CulturedKids linky over at Nell Heshram’s The Pigeon Pair and Me. Each month, anyone can link up a post on her blog, about a culture related family experience they’ve written about. Additionally, Nell will be highlighting upcoming ‘not be be missed’ events or featuring other arts and culture bloggers. I’ve chosen the asisi Panorama ‘Die Mauer’ to link this month, as 9th November marks the 27th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. (05/11/2016)

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2 Responses to “{Germany} I spy…a divided Berlin”

  1. Nell (the Pigeon Pair and Me) Says:

    This is such a powerful post. In many ways we’ve come a long way since the construction, and fall, of the Berlin Wall. But it also feels as though we’re slipping backwards….I think it’s great that you were able to take Museum Boy to the Panorama. I think my son would be able to grasp it, too, but you’re right – it doesn’t sound suitable for all children. Having said that, it’s crucial that children are educated from an early age about the mistakes of the past, to prevent the same things happening again. Thanks for linking up with #CulturedKids.

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Happy 1st of Advent & a Giveaway! | Museum Diary - November 27, 2016

    […] To celebrate the 1st of Advent, I have a special giveaway for you, courtesy of the asisi Panorama Berlin. A couple of months ago, I visited the Panorama ‘Die Mauer’ (Enlg: ‘The Wall’) – which depicts a divided Berlin during the 1980s in the shadows of the Berlin Wall – with my six year old #MuseumBoy, and it made quite an impression on him. Well, on both of us, actually. You can read about our visit in my previous post >> “I spy…a divided Berlin” […]

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