DDR Museum

January 26, 2012

Germany

Yesterday, I visited the DDR Museum with my brother, who has come to stay for a few days. We’re going to the Long Night of Museums on Saturday (the main reason for his visit), but we wanted to spend some extra time at the DDR Museum, which I had previously checked out in December and decided it would be worth visiting with a couple of hours to spare. And indeed, we spent over two hours looking around this fabulous museum that has shot right up my list of favourites in Berlin.

The museum is divided roughly into two main areas: one that looks at everyday life in the DDR, the other that looks at the more political side of things. Despite being German, I have to admit to knowing very little about the former East Germany. As the museum says on its website, “Maybe you know the Spreewald pickles [yes, I do], nudism beaches [yes] and the Trabi [yes] – the rest of the life in this socialist state is unfamiliar to most of the people in this world [guilty as charged..]”. It’s usually the political side that you learn about at school or that gets featured in movies, the Russian occupation, the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, the Stasi etc, so for me the everyday side of things was the most interesting – how did everyday life differ between East and West Germany, how were people affected by the many often strict regulations imposed by the state, what were the positive sides, if any, of East Germany? The exhibition covers everything from childhood, youth, education and work, through transportation, East German brands and products, fashion, arts and culture, media and movies, to housing, home, family, holidays and travel. Have you ever heard about the communal potty training at nursery? Or that there were incentives to get married and have children? Or did you know that the underground trains servicing West Berlin kept running underneath the streets of East Berlin, with the relevant exits just being sealed up and the stations skipped on the affected routes?

The museum also prides itself on being “one of the most interactive museums in the world”, with its slogan “Geschichte zum Anfassen” (Eng: “history to touch”). There is an abundance of activities to take part in, such as sitting in a Trabi and going on a simulated ride through a concrete slab housing estate (sadly the simulation wasn’t working during our visit, but we still got to sit inside the car), a communal touch screen quiz game you can play with up to four people to test your knowledge about the DDR, or old East German TV programmes to watch or radio stations to listen to. There are drawers to open, objects to handle, and cupboards to rummage through. Take a seat on the sofa of the replica DDR living room or the authentic cinema chairs, explore and feel some fabrics and clothes that were the height of fashion at the time, or try to dance the Lipsi.

The area of the museum covering the more political topics – e.g. surveillance and interrogation, military and prison, the economy and the environment, the authorities and the opposition, the border and the iron curtain, and of course the Party and the State – was no less interesting though, and no less interactive. You could learn to write your name in Russian (and print it out as a memento), take a seat in an interrogation room, see what happened on your birthday in the socialist calendar, test yourself on matching up DDR language pairs, or try to vote ‘no’ in the government elections (not an easy feat to accomplish). As before there were audio and film clips throughout, and yet another car to sit in, this time a Volvo limousine which caused one of the more funny moments of our visit when my brother got trapped inside (to be fair, had I not wandered off I would have been able to open the door from the outside to let him our much faster^^). Two of my favourite interactives were both touch screen games, one to create the ideal new socialist person (I scored 48 out of 70 points…), and the other to be the manager of a Trabi factory and fulfil the annual production plan (I overshot the target by 109!).

In summary, this is a great museum to visit, offering something for those interested in social history and those interested in political history, and with lots of fun interactive ways to explore both. The 6 Euro entry fee (4 Euro concession) is definitely good value for money, and you better be sure to bring plenty of time with you. Their shop has a really neat selection of souvenir items too, and there were some delicious smells coming from the restaurant though sadly we couldn’t stay to check them out as we had to go pick the boy up from the nursery. The next time someone asks me for recommendations on things to do in Berlin, I will definitely include this museum as a ‘must visit’.

 

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