….wild is the wind…creative freedom is the seed….
Recently I was in the very culturally significant european city of Berlin to attend a little Gala New Year’s Eve Party at some PR & Creative friend’s pied-à-terre. Thinking I was just going to zip in, go to a party, hang out at a few cafes and then zip out of the capital again. In fact, to my utter embarrassment I had actually only discovered Berlin had been reinstated as Germany’s capital only a week before my trip. I don’t know why I missed that bit of important information, maybe I’d been busy thinking vague, abstract thoughts for the last decade???
Anyway, little did I know on Christmas Eve, some Bulgarian credit card fraudster had finally succeeded in stealing money from my credit card, so I was shocked when I got to the airport and discovered that someone had emptied my credit card. On top of that, I was so used to european city hopping, I had all of £2 in my wallet as I cannot imagine a place in the EU where my credit would not work.
So I ended up in Berlin with £2 and a generous Pay-pal loan from a friend in UK to my friend’s Pay-pal in Berlin!
German efficiency being what it is, my friends in Berlin planned a 4 days sight-seeing tour for me involving many pages of google maps, that does not cost anything! Yes, zilch! Its free! Apart from the occasional 2 Euros Mulled Wine to stay warm, I did Berlin for FREE and had the best time EVER!
You need an insider-residence help to find out all the free days & free exhibitions at different Museums.
Three Holocaust/Nazi Exhibitions stood out for me, soliciting very mixed emotions from me:
1) The most effective thing for me was actually the most simple. As I walked around the Museum island of Mitte, in the residential section I saw that there were small bronze signs. They were names of residence, taken from their homes and sent to concentration camps. In the very classic city apartment where my friends lived, there were 7 such bronze memorial signs, a whole family?
It was most sobering, direct experience for me because I can see that suddenly, anyone in the building might be a “Target” in those days and what was worst, anyone living in that building or on the street might have informed on their neighbors during WWII.
2) New Years Day took me to a walking trip to the Holocaust Memorial with my friend. As we entered the basement gallery, it was still light and we went through the different informative exhibits:
But as we came out, it was Dark and suddenly the many concrete blocks seemed like a forest of hostility. Even though I knew my friend was only in the next block, we could not hear one another or anyone else around. We could see the normal light of the city but for us, walking through the maze of blocks in the cold slippery snow, we were lost. The only sensation we felt was that we had to get out of there and get to one of the city lights. At some point, my friend had to help me jump from block to block, between the gaps, to stop us both from sliding down the slippery icy slopes. As people crossed our paths, they were impersonal movements. They could not hear us properly, though we were laughing nervously to get out. We were unable to hear their discussions. In the dark, the installation became “alienating”.
It actually made me think about the names of the millions of victims, endlessly projected on the walls of the museum beneath our very feet:
3) Much more publicised and extremely Controversial, but more “Dishonest” (in its Curation) is the Hitler Propaganda Exhibition at the German History Museum. Walking along the many arty streets, the only sign that the “World famous ” exhibition was there was a small banner, hung on the side of the building. If I had not accidentally noticed this banner in the dark, half an hour before closing time, I would not even know the exhibition was “Right here, now”.
As I went through the exhibition, I noticed that many signs were not translated. Most notable, for me, was a comb put behind glass with a sign in German, but no translation in English!
Some of the exhibitions were self-explanatory, e.g. Nazi Olympic memorabilia. But a “comb” under a bell jar?
I asked the security guard there just to tell me what the German tag said and he was very polite & friendly, but declined. He said he was not allowed to do so as the Museum has designated specific staff for that during the day but as it was nearly closing time, the “explanation” people were gone. I pressed on, saying, “Look, I know this is a controversial exhibition and some images cannot be used to advertise the exhibition under german law, but really, it makes no sense to me to just look at a comb. Please can you at least tell me what is this comb supposed to be?”
We got into a quick conversation and the security guard explained,”We are not allowed to in our contract because it is very controversial. I have learnt all these things at school when I was growing up and trust me, I have very strong personal opinions about it but in this job, I cannot translate what the tag says to you. ”
When I said,” I cannot come back tomorrow for the special translation, I am meeting my friends.”
He smiled and said,” Yep, that is more important things in life…..Enjoy Berlin.”
Oh well. I guess I will never find out what “The comb ” was!
I’m not sure how to react. I understand the museum has to take care of security risks. Many items in the exhibition would be quite valuable in the “Nazi Memorabilia” collectors market but honestly, I have never seen an exhibition where they are not allowed to advertise or use items of the exhibition to advertise. If all this is to prevent the mystique & further fascination with Hitler, it really missed the mark. I noticed that der Spiegel’s review concurred. (Review from Spiegel )
Quote from Spiegel : ” Last Friday, the day the temporary exhibition opened in central Berlin, it was packed with Germans and foreign tourists. Few are likely to have come away much wiser. The myth of an innocent nation led astray by an evil clique was debunked decades ago as nothing more than a feeble excuse proffered by the generation that followed him. Anyone who still believes in it is hopelessly ignorant.”
Yep. I agree! The “feel” of the exhibition came across “compromising”. It was as if they set out to do something “honest” and then when they met with oppositions, they pulled back and made the “gig” smaller and more understated. What would be the point of that? I went away with a feeling that, actually this is like Pop-Idol-Hitler…lets vote for the most “shocking” items, out of context. The whole thing had a “feel ” of a Horror film set to it. I felt sucked into what Umberto Eco described as “Hyper-reality” . It felt very dishonest on too many dimensions…but I am sure many would be happy to pay their good money for the “ride”.