In Berlin, the Museumsinsel (Museum Island) is famous and perhaps a must-go for most art and culture lovers. This is because the five museums gathered around the area have all those Egyptian, late Antique and Byzantine art in them (e.g. the reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate of Babylon). In fact, the complex is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Their architectural features and historical value are perhaps the other reasons for a visit. Not far away from this Museum Island, there is another museum named DDR Museum, which is also worth a mention.
Located in Berlin Mitte, former East Germany, the DDR Museum is dedicated to what life was like during socialism of the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik in German) or GDR (German Democratic Republic in English). The museum uses an innovative way to present the everyday life in the former East Germany, a way of life which changed dramatically with the fall of the Berlin Wall more than 25 years ago.
Life in the GDR presented in an interactive way
The museum focuses on everyday life in the GDR instead of the brutality of political events. It does not dramatize the history. It just puts right in front of us the real life of the people, be it good or bad. The display and tools in each part of the museum are interactive. We are led to take part in the daily life of the GDR, be the participants. We can experience many fascinating aspects, like sitting in an interrogation room or a prison cell and learning the outrageous techniques employed by the Stasi, the GDR secret police agency. We can open cupboards, rummage through drawers, drive a Trabi simulator and touch and feel a number of exhibits.
We don’t need to learn the history in the conventional way, we don’t need to see the heavy-hearted presentation of the war and the Berlin wall, and instead we go through the history in lighter way with all these interactive components.
Ostalgie or underplay of the brutality of a dictatorship
For some people in German, The GDR was more than just the dictatorship and the wall. The east of Germany was also a homeland, a way of life and a culture. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the German reunification that followed a year later, many of the symbols of the German Democratic Republic were swept away. Almost all GDR brands of products disappeared from the stores and were replaced by Western products. Some of the Eastern Germans began to miss more or less the aspects of their former lives. Ostalgie is the word particularly refers to the nostalgia for these aspects of regular daily life and culture in the former GDR. The DDR museum is thus a platform for these people to recall this memory of the many facets of life.
While some see the exhibition as an important part of coming to terms with the GDR, others feel that it plays down the brutality of a dictatorship.
Despite all these debates, it is doubtless that the design and curating of each corner of the museum are well-thought.
An “Ostalgie” or a “underplay” of history? It is your call.