I’m not generally a huge fan of museums. They’re great for historical context, but if I have only two or three days in a city, I’d rather be experiencing it as it is now than spending a day learning about how it used to be. It’s an interesting contrast because I absolutely love ancient civilizations; that’s the reason that Egypt and Greece are so high on my list of dream places to go. So occasionally I make an exception for a good museum or two depending on where I am.
Berlin deserved all the exceptions. Because it is such a historically pivotal place, I had so much to learn about how it became the city that it is now, and how Germany recovered from the country that it used to be. Plus the wealth of museums in this place, they even have a whole island dedicated to it! The choice was difficult, but we eventually went with a few that we thought we couldn’t miss.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Yes, that’s the real name on the marker outside. And I’m glad they owned up to it. I think that if possible, every person should come to this place and remember how the human race failed itself so horribly. And, sometimes, continues to fail itself as we turn our backs on horrendous events like these that still happen in the world.
The memorial is marked by a series of concrete slabs spread in rows and columns for about a block or so. The “museum” lies underneath. It is designed in a progression of rooms. First is a long corridor that illustrates the timeline of events. Three other rooms can be accessed in different orders, each dedicated to a more personalized aspect of the Holocaust. The Room of Families follows 15 Jewish families and where each member ended up after the war was over. Another room is simply a big empty room with some rectangular blocks to sit on. Names are projected on the wall and the memoirs of these people are read out loud in different languages. The room I found most difficult was one in which personal letters, diary entries and poetry of the sufferers were projected from the ceiling to the floor. It was, in a word, heartbreaking. To read the despair and horror and suffering firsthand… I actually left that room crying after reading only a few of the notes.
Finally there is a corridor where there are computer terminals to search for specific victims of the war, as well as details of other Holocaust Memorials throughout the world.
The memorial is free of charge; check here for opening times throughout the year.
Checkpoint Charlie Museum
Checkpoint Charlie is named after Checkpoint C, the last checkpoint through which you could cross between East and West Berlin at the time when the Berlin Wall was up. The museum began immediately after the wall was established and has a lot of memorabilia from that time, as well as highlighting the many ways people attempted (and sometimes succeeded) getting out of East Berlin: suitcases, giant machinery, and aircraft, among other things.
For me, knowing so little about the Berlin Wall, this was a very fascinating museum. It captured the time with such clarity and demonstrated the ingenuity and creativity of people. It might be skewed a bit in support of “Western” ideas, so read carefully.
It’s jam-packed with both exhibits and people, so it can be a little stressful and claustrophobic. Ventilation isn’t fantastic and many of the exhibits aren’t exactly well-preserved. Bring water!
Checkpoint Charlie Museum is open everyday from 9:00 – 22:00 and is €12.50 for adults.
The DDR Museum is a wonderfully hands-on museum that details life in East Berlin at the time of the Berlin Wall. It was in interesting glimpse into the many ways that media and the education system can be used to direct a people’s way of thinking.
The museum allows you to listen to approved music and propaganda, open cabinets and closets to see uniforms and clothing, walk into a typical living room and kitchen, and so much more. There’s even a room that’s bugged; conversations in this room can be heard elsewhere in the museum. Definitely worth a visit.
Opening hours are 10:00-20:00 most of the week, 10:00-22:00 on Saturdays. It’s €7 for adults at the door but you can get discounts online.
Ah, Pergamonmuseum. I absolutely love ancient civilizations, so this museum was such a delight to me. They have three collections: Classical Antiquities (the largest, features Greek and Roman items), Ancient Near East (exhibits from the region of Mesopotamia, including some of the very oldest artifacts of civilization), and Islāmic Art (decorative and Islāmic artifacts from Islāmic regions). What makes it different from any other historical museum is the scale of the exhibits here. They have these massive reconstructions that take up entire floors and walls. The level of care taken to preserve and reconstruct these exhibits is really quite impressive.
This is an extremely popular museum. It’s open from 10:00-18:00 daily (20:00 on Thursdays) but if you want to make sure you get in, I would suggest going as early as an hour before, because people get in line way before opening time. Entrance is limited; the first day we tried to go in, they closed admission at 13:00. Another option is to book your ticket online if you know when you want to go. It’ll be much less stressful and you’ll get €1 off the regular €12 admission.
There are so many more museums in Berlin and you definitely have to plan a little depending on which ones you want to see. We only had three days, so here’s how we carved out time for these museums as well as the rest of Berlin. However, we will certainly have more to see and do if we eventually manage to make our way back.