Newest Review: ... in the former GDR. The exhibit handles the key areas of education, work, shopping, media, sports and holidays and texts are writ... more
Lifting the Iron Curtain
DDR Museum Berlin (Berlin, Germany)
Member Name: collingwood21
DDR Museum Berlin (Berlin, Germany)
Advantages: Interesting and accessible displays; The reconstruction of a typical East German flat
Disadvantages: Can get crowded; Wanders into "ostalgie" too much in places
=== DDR Museum ===
Sitting on the bank of the River Spree close to Berlin cathedral, the DDR Museum is a fairly small affair, consisting of one low-ceilinged room, a rather cramped gift shop and a small cafe. It is not much space in which to tell visitors about the DDR in its entirety, and given that it generally eschews politics in favour of the experiences of ordinary East Germans, the Museum of East German Life might perhaps have been a better name for the project. Semantics aside, though, this is neither the largest nor the slickest museum you will find in Berlin, but I would certainly rate it as one of the most interesting; that it was easily the most crowded museum I visited in the city suggests that its friendly, interactive approach to presenting the past is widely appreciated by visitors. Certainly it was enough to get the museum nominated as a contender for European Museum of the Year in 2008, quite an achievement given the museum only opened in 2006 and works solely on the proceeds of visitor receipts and donations.
Despite its small size, the museum packs a lot of information into the space it has, arranging its displays into themed areas (fashion, music, sport, work, education and leisure in the main) with lots of hands-on experiences that will appeal in particular to younger visitors. Certainly while I was there the fuseball table used to illustrate the display about the one and only professional football match played between East and West Germany proved an irresistible draw to children (it was the 1974 World Cup and the East won 1-0).
A widely cited aspect of the museum is the chance for visitors to sit in the driving seat of a genuine Trabi (East Germany's ubiquitous and easy to repair car, which was fortunate given how prone it was to breaking down), but for me the reconstruction of a typical East German apartment was much more of an eye-opener. Until you have stood in the space of one of the cramped and poorly furnished boxes that was considered adequate to house a family, it is hard to appreciate just how confining and miserable it must have been for the inhabitants. Yet the information panel stated that East Germans were universally happy with this situation; I very much doubt that, but perhaps something was lost in translation. The employment section was also shocking in its simplicity; under Soviet control, it took four years to qualify as a shop assistant, for instance, and brick-layers earned more than many university-educated professionals. While I suppose the aim of the museum is to reveal the lesser-known aspects of East German life, I was still surprised by how little the museum touched on the regime's cruelty and vast spy network (which even extended to the point of children being encouraged to report on their parents); if this museum was the only impression you ever had about the DDR, you might well be left wondering why anybody wanted the wall to come down at all.
Interpretation of the displays was presented in both German and English, and guided tours are available around the museum in these and other languages (I noticed one being conducted in French while I was there). The information was generally clearly written and well supported by the objects, photographs and models on display, and there is easily sufficient to occupy visitors for an hour or two in the museum. Given the size of the museum - which got pretty crowded when I was there despite it being a Friday in mid-March and therefore well outside of peak visiting times - I would advise anyone planning to visit in summer or at the weekend to go early so that they will have the space to really appreciate the displays.
=== Final Thoughts ===
Although I enjoyed my visit to the DDR Museum, the thing that struck me throughout was the light-hearted tone that was consistently used through the displays. We are encouraged to laugh at the pictures of collective potty training sessions, the East German polyester fashions, and the obsessions of the secret police with their listening stations. For a museum exhibiting life within a highly repressive regime, this was a little uncomfortable for me. By all means smile at the more outrageous aspects of the regime, but the museum indulged perhaps a little too much in what has become known as "ostalgie" - nostalgia for the East - than I felt was quite appropriate. I would still recommend a visit to the DDR Museum - it will be an hour or two well spent for a quite modest outlay - but you might want to balance the overly endearing aspects of it with a visit to the Berlin Wall Museum or the Stasi Prison to remind yourself there was more to the East than collective nudist holidays and officially sanctioned dance music.
Recommended (with some reservations).
=== Visitor Information ===
Open 10am to 8pm daily, 10pm on Saturdays
There is also a cafe on site - the DDR Restaurant - but I did not use it
Nearest s-bahn and u-bahn stations: Alexanderplatz
Entry: Euro6 adults / Euro4 concessions / Euro4.50 adult with Berlin Welcome Card
At the time of writing, Euro1 = £0.87
Summary: The only museum in the world to interpret life in East Germany when the Berlin Wall was up