Museum Island, the DDR Museum, and Some Platzes
If you have any interest in 20th-Century European history and you are in Berlin, you will be richly rewarded by a visit to the DDR Museum. (“DDR” stands for Deutsche Demokratische Republik, or German Democratic Republic [GDR].) We spent several hours there on our last full day in Germany, and every moment was fascinating.
In the middle of the Spree River in Berlin there is an island where five world-class museums are located: the Altes Museum, the Neues Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, the Bode Museum and the Pergamon. The Pergamon, the most popular, includes “The Collection of Classical Antiquities,” “The Museum of the Ancient Near East,” and “The Museum of Islamic Art.” Other museums are close by, across the river from the island.
After nearly three weeks of sightseeing, unfortunately we’d had enough of world-class museums and art galleries. We did, however, wander past a few of the acclaimed buildings on our final day in Berlin – our subway stop for the DDR Museum was at Museum Island. Next time I’m there, I intend to start my sightseeing at one of the museums on the island. I was sorry that we didn’t have the perseverance this time.
The DDR Museum
The DDR Museum is located across the eastern arm of the Spree from the magnificent Berlin Cathedral. We were fortunate to visit it when we did, as two months later a huge Aquadom in the Radisson Collection Hotel, right next door to the Museum, exploded, spewing a million litres of water and 1500 fish into the lobby and the street. The DDR Museum will be closed for several months as a result of the damage from that catastrophe.
The description of the DDR Museum in my Lonely Planet guide is what attracted our interest. “This touchy-feely museum does an insightful and entertaining job of pulling back the iron curtain on daily life in socialist East Germany. You’ll learn how kids were put through collective potty training, engineers earned little more than farmers, and everyone, it seems, went on nudist holidays. A perennial crowd-pleaser among the historic objects on display is a Trabi, the tinny East German standard car – sit in it to take a virtual spin around an East Berlin neighbourhood. The more sinister sides of daily life, including the chronic supply shortages and surveillance by the Stasi (secret police), are also addressed.”
(Rather than transcribing the information from the signs that were posted near the displays and installations, I am posting photographs of some of the signs themselves – which were often as interesting as the visuals. I’ve added comments here and there where I think they may be helpful.)
As the Lonely Planet Guide said, the Trabant, the East-German-made automobile (called “Cardboard on Wheels” in the display), was of great interest to visitors. Apparently, the East Germans were dismayed at the success of the Volkswagen that was being manufactured on the far side of the Wall, and had hoped this would compete. It did not. Most East Germans had no alternative but to purchase the “Trabi,” but they invested a good deal of time and energy on do-it-yourself repairs, and the cobbling together of home-made parts.
An East German Apartment
A completely outfitted East German Apartment is displayed in the DDR Museum. It was very spacious, but just about everything in it was shoddily made and apparently everything broke down all the time. The East Germans became adept at repairing everything.
Alexanderplatz, Potsdamer Platz and Gendarmenmarkt
After we left Museum Island we went to Alexanderplatz to look around and enjoy some currywurst (tasty!).
Then we took the U-Bahn to Potsdamer Platz, where we visited a beautiful new shopping mall and admired a lot of buildings.
For our final evening meal in Berlin (and Germany), we took the U-Bahn up to lovely Gendarmenmarkt, where we had a lovely dinner and saw some unexpected sights that made us very glad we hadn’t just gone back to the same restaurant we’d enjoyed twice before near our hotel, as our tired feet had strongly suggested we should do.