My second day in Berlin dawned cold and rainy, just as forecast. With this in mind my plan had always been to go to some museums and spend the day inside as much as possible.
My first destination was the DDR museum, which is all about life in East Germany. Well, naturally I got distracted on the way there!
The DDR museum is located near the Isle of Museums, which is home to several other museums and also the art galleries. I had never planned to go in the art galleries but they are impressive buildings, built decades ago, and certainly the exteriors are worth a look, even in the rain. They are grand buildings, with pillars and columns, grand staircases, and detailed stonework. At least one of them has statues outside in a small garden/courtyard, and covered walkways with stone ceilings and more of the aforementioned pillars.
Nearby is the Berlin Dom (cathedral) which was a very nice surprise – I had no idea it was there. This is another building which is worth a look. I didn’t go inside, although I think you can, but even the outside is beautiful, all big arches and towers and windows and domes, all in gorgeous stonework. There are also numerous statues built into the walls, adding to the grandeur.
The DDR museum by contrast is built in a much more modern building, right by the river. I had a great couple of hours there, indulging my inner history geek – social history, my favourite kind, learning about how people lived in the past. There are information boards full of info about how controlled life was then, and how everyone was expected to conform to the uniformity. Even the young were expected to conform – it turns out kids at nursery had potty time – they all to sit on the potty at the same time, and there they had to stay until everyone had finished! There were displays about the shops and shopping for groceries, and the range of food in the shops. There were lots of information about leisure time in East Germany, and how everyone was expected to participate in some sort of sport – here at least they had some freedom as they could chose which sport – and apparently they loved nudist beaches. The highlight of the museum, at least for the half dozen 10 or 12 year old boys there, was the Trabant car which was on display. The Trabant car was pretty much the only car available in East Germany for years, and much sought after. The reality is the Trabant was cheap, produced much pollution, badly designed (for example, they had no petrol gauge so the owners had to guess when they needed to refuel), and a challenge to drive. But, East Germans loved them! They aren’t produced anymore, but I think some are still in existence, hiding away somewhere, including obviously the one in the DDR museum, which you are allowed to sit in – the boys I mentioned earlier were having a great time playing in it, pretending to drive it.
After I finished at the DDR museum I went on to the Story of Berlin museum. This tells the story of Berlin, from about 1200 to the present day, detailing the political and social changes over the years. It’s interestingly done, without it being information overload. That said, I did struggle slightly as apart from my knowledge of 20th century history I know nothing about German history and I did feel names of important people just appeared on the display boards without an explanation. The highlight of this museum was the tour of a nuclear bunker. This is actually including in the price of your admission, and definitely worth doing. The bunker was built underground, in West Berlin, and was advertised as being big enough to hold everyone in West Berlin and keep them safe when the Soviet Union dropped a nuclear bomb. The reality, as we were told on the tour is that it could only hold about 3,500 people. There was a limited number of toilets and sinks for washing and no showers, and only 2 small kitchens, which weren’t kept stocked. Also, the air conditioning system would probably only work for about 2 weeks – not very long really. Not sure I would want to go inside if there had been a nuclear attack, although the Germans didn’t know how bad it was at the time. All-in-all, it wouldn’t save many lives, and even then only for a short time. It also isn’t that far underground and not very well re-enforced with concrete, so it might not even survive the initial attack.