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
East Side Story
DDR Museum Berlin (Berlin, Germany)
Member Name: fizzywizzy
DDR Museum Berlin (Berlin, Germany)
Advantages: Well preseneted and eclcetic interactive exhibition; good value for money
Disadvantages: Gets hugely busy; somes sections stronger than others
One of the things I loved about the movie 'Goodbye Lenin' was the lengths that Alex and his sister go to in order to redecorate their apartment to convince their mother, when she comes out of a long coma, that they're still living in the 'old days' of Communist East Germany. Desperately they seek out cheap furniture, nylon clothes and even empty Spreewald pickle jars, all those things we now regard as kitsch and retro.
Berlin's "Museum of the DDR" (DDR standing for Deutsche Demokratische Republik) has all these things and much more. This well presented exhibition looks at all aspects of life in East Germany from childhood and education, through the teenage years, and into adulthood. It covers fashion, food, interior design, hobbies and holidays. There are sections on newspapers, state security and relationships with other countries behind the Iron Curtain and elsewhere.
The museum is located five minutes from the Alexander Platz and the television tower. It is housed in the ground floor of a rather grand old building on the Spree Promenade. It's an area where there are lots of museums as well as a popular crafts market so it's a part of Berlin that is always busy with tourists and as we suspected from the previous day's visit to the Berlin Wall museum at Checkpoint Charlie, there was a queue of people waiting to get in. 'Ostalgia' is big business and this must have been at the forefront of the minds of the people that dreamt up this museum, which is notable in the fact that it's a private concern.
In my experience private museums tend to be pretty rubbish; I'm sure there are lots of good ones, but, for the most part, the ones I have visited have been a major let down. Those in charge of the "Museum of the DDR" pride themselves on ploughing all the profits back into the running of the museum and the upkeep of the exhibits. Admission is Euro6 for adults and Euro4 for children but there are some discounts to be had (we got a 25% discount by showing our Berlin Welcome Card) and if you were able to see everything in this very comprehensive exhibition you'd be getting good value.
It would be easy to poke fun at the DDR and everything about it; let's face it, there's plenty to laugh about. A prime example is the keeping of 'smells' in glass jars in the Stasi headquarters; we know this is ludicrous but the state police kept them believing that they would one day lead to the arrest of some enemy of the state or another. There are plenty of photographs of people with terrible haircuts wearing equally shocking clothes but this exhibition is about more than simply laughing at out-dated fashions; the fashion section of the exhibition looks at how designers were encouraged and the design briefs they worked to, the development of new synthetic fabrics and the problems that people faced when wearing the clothes. There are lots of first hand accounts included in the exhibition and in the fashion section, you can find out what people thought about wearing clothes made in the DDR from cheap synthetic fibres.
There are some great mock ups of domestic interiors and the attention to detail employed in creating them is marvellous. Everything from wall and floor coverings to souvenirs from holidays on the side board and food packaging in the kitchen has been chosen with care, not just to create an accurate visual account of life in the old East Germany, but to make a point. Books on the shelf have been chosen carefully to illustrate how some literature was censored while other authors were held up as exemplary.
The section on shopping is gloriously entertaining but also well researched and inventive. There are two receptacles containing different types of coffee bean. One is a fairly decent quality while the other is poor quality and tastes awful. Coffee is an expensive commodity and, of course, something not produced in western Europe. In 1976 the price of coffee began to rise and the East German government decided to buy an inferior blend instead; this contained 51 per cent coffee while the remainder comprised chicory, rye and sugar beet among other fillers. The East German people were furious and demanded the return of the original coffee: fortunately the govenment was able to enter into an agreement with Vietnam which, along with a price drop in 1978, averted a crisis. Visitors to the museum can taste the two blends and compare them.
While there's a lot to smile about, this exhibition does not ignore the negative aspects of life in East Germany, though it doesn't make its point as seriously as some other museums in Berlin. I was interested in this part of the exhibition but as the sections looking at state security are at the end of the natural route though the museum, I was tiring by then and I think other visitors were starting to flag and skimmed over what they might otherwise has spent more time on.
As well as the use of conventional text boards and photographic displays, this exhibition is very interactive with lots of audio-visual elements. This includes drawers and cupboards built into the display walls, secret windows, interactive musical games and a mini cinema where you can watch clips of popular East German television programmes. Most of these work very well but there was one occasion when an oblivious Italian tourist almost smashed my head as she opened a cupboard door, and I saw one man do himself some mischief when he walked into a drawer that had been left open.
You need to allow at least a couple of hours to see this exhibition, especially at busy times as progress around the exhibits can be slow. The museum is open daily from 10.00am until 8.00pm except for Saturdays when it stays open until 10.00pm.
The "Museum of the DDR" does the popular culture and domestic life aspects better than it covers the security and state themes. Nonetheless, we found this an enjoyable and entertaining experience and we felt we'd learned a great deal about a variety of areas. It's not an attraction I would think of revisiting but I would recommend a visit to anyone wanting to find out a bit more about the reality of living in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
10178 Berlin Mitte
Nearest U-Bahn - Alexanderplatz or Klosterstrasse
Nearest S-Bahn - Hackescher Markt or Alexanderplaz
A gift shop sells a variety of related souvenirs, while an adjoining DDR-Restaurant serves East German classics
The museum is wheelchair accessible.
All texts are in German and English
Summary: A look at life in the former East Germany