Not to Be Missed: The German History Museum
It would only take a few hours for me to forgot the utter failure that was Potsdam and I owe it all to the very fascinating, and often chilling, German Museum of History- the one we had seen on our free tour the day before.
When we returned to Berlin, we were joined by two other “Maastrichtians” Duy and Nitin- that is when they found the meeting point: the Berlin Dome. Note: how can you miss the Berlin Dome? It’s HUGE!
But the typical pictures and a short walk later, we were presenting our Welcome Cards at the front desk and handing over our coats to make the whole experience less than a burden.
What drew me to visiting this particular museum (as opposed to the other hundred or so in the city) is the prospect of seeing over 8000 various objects representing 2000 years of history. And I was not disappointed. Considering how very little I knew about Germany before I went on this trip, I came out of there feeling more informed and knowledgeable.
It is composed of two interconnected structures: a rather more modern building that houses the temporary exhibits and the Royal Arsenal building (Zeughaus) that holds the permanent exhibition of all those 2000 years of history. Oh, and the building is painted in a bright shade of pink, like it’s nobody’s business. If you’re walking down Unter Den Linden, there’s no chance you can miss it.
We decided first to see the exhibit they had on Germans and trees- pretty interesting for someone who has studied the complex interaction between humans and the environment (oh, that’s me). Unfortunately, cameras were not allowed, and it was almost entirely in German so I don’t remember anything apart from the children books and the importance of forests in Nazi Germany- something about living space or systems….
From there, we crossed into the Zeughaus, with its very impressive entrance hall. They even had cannons there and a red carpet, which to anyone with a camera means that it’s a great photo-op.
And then it began.
For the period spanning between 100 BC and 1918 AC, we roamed around, trying to imagine how life up till the beginning of World War I looked like. As this was the biggest stretch of time, there was a lot to see: plague masks, armors, sculptures, furniture, dresses, and A LOT of paintings.
It’s a great test to your imagination as well as a great way to marvel at how long these things have lasted and how carefully they’ve been preserved so that people like me could come and see them and get a sense of a history they were never taught.
But of course, museums don’t have to be dull and boring and about the learning experience that come with it. At one point, the four of us were yelling across to each other “What year are you in? I’m in year X” which is funny and true considering that you can truly get sucked into it.
When we got to 1918, however, the mood quickly changed to solemn for perfectly understandable reasons. We’re all taught about that period of history that went on to impact everything from there on, but it’s rare that you get to see images and artifacts.
The contrasts are overwhelming. Nothing brings you back to reality like seeing a flapper outfit and the first Nivea containers then SS uniforms and concentration camp images and documents in the very next. And the museum doesn’t disappoint when it comes to that crucial part of history- you could easily spend an hour reading all the information they’ve presented and wondering.
The final part of the museum explores divided Germany, and once again, the contrasts are all there. From clothes, to cars, to appliances, and even news clippings, you get the true feel of how things were only a few years ago.
This all leads up to the reunification, of course. There’s a huge chunk of the Berlin Wall standing right there, right next to a video wall showing all the worldwide events happening in the years that led to the fall of the wall and the subsequent reunification.
You can also take a look at the protest signs, and I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of it if you understand German (which as I’ve clearly outlined, I don’t).
We came out the museum a few hours later, completely overwhelmed with the wealth of knowledge it had provided, and for me, completely in line with the thought of “seeing is believing.”
As the title of this post suggests, the museum is not to be missed. After all, it had managed to make me forget that only a few hours earlier, we had been in Potsdam.