Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie (Berlin, Germany)
Also known as the 'Mauermuseum', the 'Museum am Haus Checkpoint Charlie' is one of Berlin's most popular tourist attractions. It's so popular, in fact, that there was a long queue stretching outside the doors and down the street when we visited on a freezing Saturday in December. The museum looks at the history of the Berlin ... Wall, why it was built, how it affected the lives of the people of Berlin and how desperate people tried to get over the wall to escape from 'the east, and how the wall came to be torn down. It's housed in a building that overlooks Checkpoint Charlie, one of the fortified gates between the two sides of the city, and which was itself a place where escape plans were hatched and sometimes executed.
The museum is located on Friedrichstrasse within easy walking distance of Unter den Linden and close to several tram and U-bahn stations. It's literally right beside where the wall cut through the city, at the site of the famous Checkpoint Charlie. There's a guards' kiosk at the road junction and nowadays paid actors in vintage uniforms pose for photographs in front of the barricades. 'Ostalgia' is big business and the queues reflect this.
There's a fenced off plot on the corner and the walls have been used for an exhibtion about the Berlin Wall. It's actually really comprehensive with interesting texts and lots of excellent photographs but it's not part of the museum and if you take the time to view all of the panels, as we did, you'll find that much of this information (and also the photographs) is repeated in the museum. You might even be tempted to skip the museum altogether, so good is the al fresco display, but the museum does contain a lot of excellent exhibits that bring the story of Berlin alive.
The museum was originally housed in a small apartment on Bernauer Strasse but it attracted so many visitors that it moved to the current premises in June 1963. It directly overlooked Checkpoint Charlie and soon became a haven for escape assisters and offered practical support to those who had managed to escape.
VISITING THE MUSEUM
I would guess that whatever time of day, week and year you visit Berlin this place is going to be busy so be prepared to queue. Although it looked like we might have to wait longer, we were inside and on our way around the museum in about fifteen minutes. There is a cloak room on the ground floor and I did think we'd be asked to leave bags and coats but this is not compulsory.
This building is partly accessible for wheelchair users but I wouldn't much fancy being at sitting height as not only are there so many people, many of the information boards and illustrations are placed high up. In one part there was a display that went up the stairs and even over the stairs: this was really awkward to look at and made progress up the stairs slow and possibly dangerous.
Audio guides are available but all exhibits are captioned in German, English, French, Spanish, Italian and possibly Japanese and Russian, though don't quote me on that. While it's good that foreigners are catered for so well, it also causes a problem because it makes every text board long and cluttered. In order to accommodate so many languages the text is often small and difficult to read.
If you know almost nothing about the Berlin Wall this is a very good place to come to find out about it. If, on the other hand, it's a subject already know but would like to learn more about, then the abundance of detail such as first person accounts of people who managed to escape over the wall should prove interesting. Both positions, however, have their drawbacks because there is so much information here. Those who know very little about the subject might feel a bit overwhelmed by the amount of material, while those who already know a bit might feel that it's diffcult to work through see past all the stuff they already know to find the little treasures that enhance the story.
The story begins around around at the end of World War 2, setting the scene by explaining how the country and its capital came to be divided among the occupying powers. Although emigration from the eastern bloc countries in general had been tightly controlled, Berlin was an irritating loophole for the authorities. Young people, and especially those in professions such as engineering, teaching and law, were leaving in droves and the East German government needed to take action to stem the tide.
One of the things the exhibition does really well is to explain how quick the appearance of the wall was. Quite literally, the people of Berlin woke to find this physical barrier dividing their city. On 13th August 1961 the Russians erected a barbed wire fence along the border; two days later work on the wall proper commenced. Without warning familes were separated and people cut off off from their places of work. In some tragic cases people who had been visiting family or friends in the east or west of the city found themselves unable to return home. There are some fascinating transcripts of people who were affected in this way. Official figures report that 28 people escaped on the first day, followed by 41 on the second. Bernauer Strasse had been divided along its length and desperate inhabitants trapped on 'the wrong side' of the wall even flung themselves from the windows of their apartments to try to get into the West. Very quickly the authorities had the windows of those buildings bricked up but that just drove people to leap from the roof instead; a significant number died in this way. In 1962 a young man called Peter Fechter, just 18 years old, was shot by a border guard as he was trying to flee the East; it is said that his cries for help could be heard on both sides of the wall as he was left there to bleed to death.
Between 1961 when the wall was built, and 1989 when the people of Berlin took back their city there were many successful and many unsuccessful attempts to escape over (and often under) the wall. The majority of people were fleeing East Berlin, a small number tried to get into the East. Some of the attempts at escape were ill conceived and doomed to fail, others were highly ingenious and some were so good that those people who made a career from helping people escape were able to employ them time after time. The exhibition includes some original items that were used in escapes - cars with hidden compartments in which someone might squeeze in to be driven over the border, human catapults, forged passports and even a homemade flying machine. The exhibition highlights the case of the Wetzels and Strlzycks, two families that managed to float over the wall in a homemade hot air balloon. They quietly went about the task of acquiring enough lightweight material which they purchased in small amounts in order not to provoke suspicion and used only the least amount of fuel that would get them away. After their successful flight the East German authorities put restrictions on the sale of lightweight fabrics.
Another really interesting display looks at attempts to escape by tunnel, in particular one in the basement of a house in Westerstrasse which was the most successful of all the attempts to tunnel under the border; an incredible 29 people were able to flee using this escape route. The display includes photographs of the family members that lived there and explains how the tunnel was built. It is just one of many examples that can be seen in this museum of the creativity and courage of ordinary people in pursuit of freedom.
The founder of the museum, Rainer Hildebrandt, wanted it to be more generally dedicated to 'International non-violent protest' and additional displays include individual exhibits such as a pair of sandals that belonged to Gandhi (who must have been well shod as I am sure I've seen numerous items of his footwear on my travels), the death mask of Russian dissident Andrei Sacharov and the 'Charta 77 typewriter' (Charter 77 was a Czech movement that was in existence between 1976 and 1992 and counted among its founding members Vaclav Havel. It's aim was to highlight the non observance of human rights and it worked hard to ensure it could not be attacked by the authorities by always remaining just inside the stringent laws on organised opposition to the goverment.) While these are certainly rather symbolic items you can comfortably skip this section of the museum if you are short on time.
I've given only an overview of the contents of the exhibition at Checkpoint Charlie; there are several floors and room after room of material and to view it all in any detail would take the best part of a day. Unfortunately the rather dated presenation of the exhibits makes it difficult to be selective in what to look at and with its text heavy content (combined with the number of people trying to look at the same stuff), visiting this museum is hard work. The same black and white boards and uniform text are used throughout and really need replacing and updating. There's a lot of repetition and the amount of exhibits could be pared back to improve the visitor experience. The museum curators could benefit from the old saying that 'less is more'.
I'd like to say yes but this museum covers a lot of the ground that other museums and outdoor exhibitions cover. At the full price of Euro12.50 it's certainly not expensive in terms of the most popular attractions in European capital cities but when you see how old and shabby the building and the displays materials are you have to wonder, with so many people coming through the doors every day, what exactly they're doing wth the money. The Berlin WelcomeCard will get you a reduction of 25% off the admission price but be sure to present your card straight away at the desk. They don't advertise the fact that they offer this reduction but it is listed in the booklet that comes with the card along with a tear out voucher to hand in to ensure you don't try to get the discount more than once.
While these premises are right beside Checkpoint Charlie and therefore at the heart of the subject, you could argue that the exhibition has outgrown its home. Access is difficult even for able bodied people, and there's just too much material for the space available. You could learn just as much from the exhibition of photographs on the hoardings on the street outside the museum or at several other points along the site of the wall. Don't be too disappointed if you don't see this museum. Yes, it does have some really good individual exhibits but it is simply too crowded to be really enjoyable.
We spent well over two hours at the museum and could only cover a fraction of what's on display. You may find it better to visit in the evening when tourists may be busy having dinner if you wish to find the museum less crowded and easier to navigate
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Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (Bilbao, Spain)
10 and a half years ago, I went to the Guggenheim in New York and was underwhelmed to say the least. I know most people like it - as evidenced by the fact my paltry 3 star rating on here didn't do anything to dent the 5 star average coming from everyone else - but to me it just didn't measure up to the Met, the MOMA or the Frick. I ... didn't come to Bilbao for the Guggenheim as some people might...I came because Easyjet wanted me to, tempting me with cheap returns from Manchester. But since the gallery is pretty much the icon of the city, I decided to give it another shot.
Located on the banks of the Río Nervión, the Guggenheim was built in 1997 in what is now recognised as a successful attempt to regenerate the city, though I'm sure Easyjet also helped. The curved titanium building, designed by Frank Gehry, is at least as impressive as its contents, and indeed you can get a good start on your sightseeing / photo taking before you head inside. On the waterside is Maman, a deceptively docile name for a 30ft high spider whose relations you might know from the Tate Modern or, if you're more of a world traveller, from Kansas City, St Petersburg, Ottawa, Tokyo, Seoul or Doha. It's a striking structure against the backdrop of the water on one side and the metallic gallery roof on the other, and can be visited even when the museum is shut (great if you've cruised into town on a Monday). Up higher at an elevated street level is an equally massive but much more welcoming figure, Jeff Koons' 'Flower Puppy'. Originally designed as a temporary being for the opening, locals petitioned to keep it and have since adopted it very much as the symbol of the city, begging the question of what on earth they had on mugs and plates and t-shirts and post cards and keyrings before he came along.
Puppy is useful as a navigation point because he marks the main entrance - otherwise you could be walking the long way round to find the way in. My guide book shows a picture of a snaking queue of people clammering to get in, so with this in mind (and because we're early risers) we were there for 10am when it opened. It was a Tuesday and I also wondered if that might make it busier, with those on poorly timed mini breaks wanting to squeeze it in before departing. Knowing full well everything would be shut on a Monday, we booked a 5 night stay in the city and allocated that day for shopping, but not everyone plans accordingly. So yes, we were there at 10am, and the doors were open but there was no line, so we walked down the oddly sized steps to the entrance, politely walked up and down the empty lines as directed by the ropes, and got our tickets. This is by far the most expensive thing to see/do in Bilbao, and we paid $11 per adult, being in that dubious period of years where I'm no longer a student but she's not quite an old aged pensioner. Discounts are available for both those groups, and you can also get a combined ticket for her and the Bellas Artes museum, but we knew that was free on Wednesdays so planned to go then instead. Almost every museum in Bilbao has a 'museum day' with free entry on a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. The Guggenheim does not.
Included in the price were audio guides, though we had to ask for these - oddly the other visitors arriving were given them automatically. Tell the cashier your language, and they'll set it for you, then you just have to listen to an intro about the gallery and how to use the thing, and you're good to go.
So, the art. There really isn't much but at first you don't notice because the building's quite fancy and the architecture deserves a second glance. We left the main hall for the ground floor exhibition space which is currently almost entirely devoted to the work of Richard Serra, an American sculptor who likes big sheets of metal. By big I mean huge - 14 feet high, weighing 200+ tons, that kind of thing. The first one was an adventure - we walked round and round trying to get to the middle of a circle, without the thrill/danger of being in a maze and having the option of getting lost. After that they became, dare I say it, a little repetitive. You can't really appreciate them from ground level, though we later discovered a 2nd floor balcony that gives a much better overview.
We moved on. 'The Inverted Mirror' is on display until September 2012. It contains, the info leaflet tells me, works from 52 artists, though the one thing I didn't see was an inverted mirror - a few very flattering tilted mirrors, sure, but nothing that I would class as inverted. It did have some fun things though. Three precariously balanced oil drums were apparently a metaphor for the economy, though whether Europe's finances were oily and sticky, or just precarious, I'm not sure. Massive canvases made from old army beds had an equally potent message, though it escapes me now. The audio tour was terribly enlightening, if only for the pretentious back stories for the works that sounded far too far fetched, almost as if someone had made them up to add depth and meaning what was, for all intents and purposes, just a nice piece of art. Felix Gonzalez-Torres' strip of light bulbs was pretty but no more 'art' in some ways than the neon pink gloves turned inside out on the hotel desk across the room from me as I write this, and yet there was a back story to his piece that went on....and on.
Upstairs the answer to the question '¿Qué será?' was surprisingly...a bit more Serra, this time with Brâncuşi, a Romanian sculptor who Serra visited in the 1960s. The combined exhibition is a bit more of the same for Serra including the 'House of Cards' which was a revelation for him, the first time he realised that instead of leaning things against walls he could...lean them against each other. "The transitive verb 'to prop'", the audio guide proudly told us. For all he inspired Serra, Brâncuşi's work here is quite different with a distinctly African theme. Wooden carvings include a token totem pole and a Adam/Eve hybrid with clear sexual overtones that you don't need the audio guide to detect (spoiler alert: she has balls).
After this excitement, nothing else was that memorable. The permanent exhibition includes a range of installations from artists across the world. One cluster features industrial materials - burlap sacks full of coal mounted on the wall, British slate arranged in a round, crop-circle-esque. The maps on the wall weren't that helpful and we almost missed these, only stumbling across them when we were looking for the loos.
In all we were there almost 2 hours, and the place was definitely getting more crowded with tour groups and school parties as we left. The museum has a shop that spans 3 floors and sells Puppy magnets, Puppy posters, Puppy bookmarks and a few non-Puppy items too. There's also an (expensive) restaurant and a cafeteria. There's free wifi in the building, useful for those essential 'look how cultured I am' Facebook or Foursquare check ins...
I am a bit suspicious of galleries which feature more temporary exhibitions than permanent ones, and this one has done nothing to lessen my scepticism. An interesting place to visit but you wouldn't want to rush back and while there are other museums I'd be a regular at if I lived in the city (like the Bellas Artes) this would never be one of them, even if it were free. It's not a good sign when the best bits about an art gallery are the flower dog and metal spider outside, so for me it's simply another mediocre 3* Guggenheim to tick off the bucket list.
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Museum in Schindler's Factory (Krakow, Poland)
Schindler's Factory - The museum of Krakow 1939 - 1945 -1956 The museum can be found at 4 Lipowa street which is about three kilometers southeast from Krakow's Old Town historical centre. Apparently parking is hard to find in the area so it might be best to park elsewhere and walk or use public transport.The nearest bus stop ... within walking distance of Schindler's Factory is Krakowska Akademia stop at Herlinga Grudzinskiego street. The closest tram stop is situated at Plac Bohaterow Getta square.
Oskar Schindler's extremely brave sheltering of hundreds of Jewish people who would otherwise have perished in the Concentration Camps just outside Krakow is a story that most people know well from the film 'Schindler's List' which was based on a Thomas Keneally book called 'Schindler's Ark' I believe.
We went hunting for the factory on foot across a bridge and then stupidly followed road signs so we turned the wrong way and walked about a mile more than we should have. It isn't very well signed so do use your map and common sense and don't follow the signs for cars as it takes you a very long way round.
The factory when used by Oskar Schindler made enamelware and one section of the museum spends some time on the history of the factory and what they made, who worked there and how Schindler was able to save them from the Nazis. There was also a film with clips from Schindler survivors who told their story of how they were gradually pushed into the ghetto then rounded up and how Schindler managed to rescue about 1200 from the Nazi clutches.
Strangely Schindler was a Nazi and it was this fact that enabled him to hide all these Jewish people. He was no saint as he enjoyed a drink and was keen to turn a profit but his heart must have been in the right place as he didn't need to save all those people and risked his life so doing. The factory was previously owned by a Jewish family and initially he was motivated by greed employing Jews as they were cheap labour and he arranged for a pretty awful camp to be built near to his factory to house his work force.
So although he was initially after turning a profit he soon began to spend his own money on rescuing these people. He persuaded the Nazis to move the factory further out of the city. It has been estimated that he spent about 4 million marks of his own money on bribing Nazis and protecting his work force and his wife even sold her jewellery. Interestingly whilst he was making shells at his factory in Brunlitz not one shell left the factory in working condition.
The museum is open April to October on Tuesday to Sunday from 10am till 5.30. In Winter the museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9am till 4pm most days but 10am till 5pm on the week end and it stays open late on Thursday till 7pm.
Today the original factory gates are still there and the windows have photos of many of the survivors saved by Schindler. Once you enter the building you have to leave any bags and coats (great as it is really hot inside the museum and mighty cold outside when we were there) with a cloak room attendant and you are given a ticket for its collection.
Opposite the cloak room is a small gift counter, not really a shop and really it had postcards and books and not a lot else. Oh yes you could buy enamel mugs with Schindler's factory on them too.
Entry to the museum is 15 zloty which considering what an amazingly huge place this is with the most fabulous exhibits and gallery after gallery packed with information and photos as well as interactive displays I think it is just so worth a visit.
Before visiting Krakow Ii was pretty ignorant of how badly the residents of this city suffered under the Nazi invasion. Everyone knows the Nazis were foul but they refined they art of foulness here I think.
The galleries covered so many aspects of life in Krakow and the stories are told through individual people's stories. So many aspects are covered from everyday life of the people, the role of Krakow as the seat of central government, the underground and the ghetto. The exhibits include film clips, photos, actual items as well as interactive things such as mini films you look through sort of viewers a bit like binoculars and there were also stamping machine with cards that had a specific memorable date and information. You could then put a printed stamp on your card as a souvenir. I think there were about five or six of these and if you were taking a class of children around I suspect that these could be very busy.
The central feature of the entire museum is the city of Krakow and its inhabitants, both the Polish and the Jewish communities who were confronted with the German occupation.
As you move through the galleries you are taken from pre -war Krakow with happy looking people, lots of photos and music and radios playing, the German invasion in 1939, Krakow as the capital of Poland under the Nazi occupation, the horrors and struggles of everyday living in the occupied city, family life, the wartime history of Krakow Jews, the resistance movement, the underground Polish state, and lastly the Soviet capture of the city. You really are taken on an emotional roller coaster as you walk from gallery to gallery.
Within the museum parts of it had been left as they were or recreated and these included Schindler's office and a huge display of enamel ware as made in the factory but this is only part of the entire story which starts in 1939 and as you move through galleries, all 22 of them you become immersed in the horror that Krakow underwent during these years of terror. As a visitor become increasingly aware of the fear, uncertainty, pain and terror felt by the people in the city not only the Jews, but all the residents of Kraków.
Entire streets have been recreated to show what Krakow was like at the time and indeed the ghetto complete with the wall built to look like gravestones is also recreated within the museum. This is no small insignificant museum the galleries are huge and the exhibits life sized and so real.
It is a really huge museum and you do have to walk quite a way. They say allow a couple of hours but in my view you could take even longer as there really is a lot to see and a lot of walking. We had to go up and down several sets of stairs so if you have mobility problems this could be difficult. I think that I saw a lift but should you need this I would phone before going to check.
This is a very new museum using the latest technology and interactive displays so that children can access the information as well as adults. It is a museum that will also help the residents of Krakow and Poland come to terms with what they went through. It is a chance for the younger generation to have an idea of what their parents and grandparents lived through and survived despite the odds.
The exhibition brings to life all the horror and problems of this time which had particularly unusual significance for the later history of not only Kraków but Poland and the whole of Europe. This time and war changed the face of Europe as it was known then and it was not until fairly recently that the residents of many parts of Europe have been allowed Western freedoms tha we have enjoyed for many years. All the information is in both Polish and English which was very forward thinking as so many nationalities speak English and so few English speak other languages.
If you are in Krakow this is one place that I would say really opens your eyes to the history of the city and the terrible suffering that the inhabitants underwent at this time. Having seen the film I really wanted to visit the factory and it was an unexpected bonus that we found this fabulous museum.
Just around the corner you can also visit the Gestapo cells which were used for torture and imprisonment and the empty cells now bare the inscriptions carved by former prisoners. We didn't visit these as by the time we had been around the museum we felt pretty emotionally drained and also suffering a little from information overload. I do find there comes a point in most museums when Ii just can't actually take in any more information. That is why I like to visit local museums and only go to a small part each time.
As well as toilets, which were very modern clean and efficient and free there was the small gift shop I mentioned and a lovely little cafe called as the 'Movie Cafe'. This was made to be part of the museum too as all the walls are covered in pictures taken during the making of 'Schindler's List' and memorabilia from the film itself is displayed. We didn't stop here for food as we were wanting to get closer to our hotel and were planning on grabbing a bit at one of the places in the nearby shopping centre but the food was quite appetising.
Anyway as I said this is a pretty impressive museum fill of information and exhibits recreated and original and I certainly learned a lot from my visit. I would say allow at least two hours but probably longer is really needed to take it all in.
Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name.
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Museum International / Arsenalstraße 1, A-1030 Wien. Tel. +43 1 799 69 00. Fax +43 1 799 69 01.
Museum International / Dorotheer-gasse 11, Vienna, Austria 1010 Tel. +43-1-535 04 31. Fax. +43-1-535 04 24.
Museum International / Sigmund Freud Society, A-1090 Vienna, Berggasse 19. Telephone: +43 319 15 96. Fax: +43 1 317 02 79. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Opening times Daily: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogotá / Museum International / Address: Calle 26 - Bogotá D.C., Bogotá, Colombia / Tel: +57 12860466
Otherwise known as The Blue Mansion, the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion is an historical Mansion / Museum International / Hotel in the centre of the Unesco heritage quarter of Georgetown, Penang.
Museum International / Address: Joods Museum van Deportatie en Verzet, Goswin de Stassartstraat 153, B-2800 Mechelen, Belgium
Address: Museu de Arte Sacra do Funchal Rua do Bispo, 21, 9000 Funchal Madeira / Museum International / Tel: (351 91) 22 89 00
Address: Ul Warszawska 21, Otrebusy, 05-800 Warszawa, Poland / Museum International / Tel: +48 22 758 50 67
Address: Pademba Road, Freetown, Sierra Leone / Museum International / Tel: +232 22 223555
Address: Quinta Velha Queijeira, 2925-000 Azeitão / Museum International / Tel: 212 191 125 / World Region: Europe
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