Thursday, July 26, 2012

Seeing the German View of Germany

Deutsches Historisches Museum
Though every guide book and traveler will tell you, you MUST MUST MUST go to Museumsinsel, a small island in the middle of the Spree River with a collection of five very large museums in the heart of Berlin, instead we are drawn to the DHM, the national museum of German history. We want to see how Germany presents its own past, especially World War II and the holocaust.  We opt for this museum housed in a former Prussian arsenal, the Zeughaus, another massive pink! building with a newer addition designed by IM Pei. I love these couplings of very old and new modern structures and it's something we will see again elsewhere in Berlin.

Christopher is itching to start at the very beginning (100 BC) with the barbaric tribes, the Romans, Franks, Visigoths and I don’t know who else. I send him on his way into the past while I opt for a special exhibition housed in the newer building:  Fashioning fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700-1915 an exquisite collection of men’s and women’s clothing on loan from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It is a beautifully done show that organizes the clothing through four lenses: a chronological timeline; a look at the textiles used in fashion over 200 years; a focus on tailoring techniques used to produce the fashions of the day (think corsets and boning, hoops and bustles); and most exceptional, trimmings — gorgeous embroidery, braiding, buttons and bows.

After wending my way through the largest of dresses with the tiniest of waists, I head for the permanent exhibit where the amount of artifacts, the organization, and the sheer size of the place is overwhelming.  Portraits, busts, coins. Military uniforms, insignia, maps, and medals, tapestries, figurines, and more, more, more.  I feel I can’t absorb the wealth of information that is everywhere.  Chris hasn't even made his way to the 1400s — he looks transfixed.  I scoot ahead to the 1800s for the Napoleonic era and things I can more readily grasp.  It is an incredible array of items that tell Germany's history.  Some things stand out: a showcase of uniforms, including an overly embellished and ribbon-ed child's uniform; between 1871-1918 there is a room with a wooden paneled structure of ten sides each side has a chair and when you sit there is a built-in pair of what looks like binoculars and when you look through you see a black and white photo of a group of men on a dock and if you wait patiently, all of a sudden a large mechanism inside the structure rotates and then you see a new picture in view, the next shot in the scene of workers and perhaps m it is the launching of a ship.  If you're impatient you can get up and change seats and see the next view.  I didn't write down what it was but I think it is called a Sciopticon; and finally, throughout the exhibits there are posters, magnificent political posters heralding the times.  Here are a few:

 Artist: Felix Albrecht  1932
Artist: Inge Drexler  1933

Russian "propaganda" poster: Nikolai Dolgorukov, Boris Efimov 1942

This is from the museum's website:  
"The Poster Collection comprises approximately 60,000 posters and covers the time from 1890 to the present -- from the early placards of events and advertisement bills to domestic and foreign World War I posters as well as items from the time of the Weimar Republic, National Socialism, World War II, the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany. On the whole, the thematical focus is on political posters.
Sammelt Obstkerne

The collection of the former Museum for German History laid the foundation for the current holdings. It was enlarged, for example, by parts of the collection of the Jewish dentist Hans Sachs, who had to leave Berlin and Germany in 1938. This important collection was confiscated by the Nazis and later thought to be lost in the war. For more than 30 years, Hans Sachs, who already as a high school student in the 1890s was fascinated by posters, was engaged in collecting items by renowned artists such as Cheret, Mucha, Steinlen, Bernhard, Edel, Gipkens, Klinger, Fennecker, Hohlwein, Kainer, Pechstein, Scheurich and many more. He was thus able to gather a collection of high quality that constitutes a representative cross-section of the art of posters prior to 1920."

The really interesting thing about this paragraph is that in March 2012 a German high court decided that over 4200 of the posters at the museum had to be returned to the heir of their rightful owner Hans Sachs — whose collection was taken by the Nazis in 1938.

The DHM did a good job of facing the horrors of the Holocaust with the exhibits that covered WWII.  As Chris said, "This could have been an American museum."  Not that we Americans are the arbiters of what's right or best, just that the information was presented in a way that didn't shy away from owning up to their liability and shame.

To see the other side of this picture, the next day we were headed to the Jüdisches Museum — the Jewish Museum in Berlin.

After 3 1/2 hours I was museum-exhausted and left Chris (with Bismarck and his cronies) to go shopping in the Galeria Kaufhof on Alexanderplatz.  Three hours later Chris is finally back at the hotel, still not having seen or read everything he wanted.   He only tore himself away because Frank had invited us for dinner at his home. He met us at the hotel and then we took the train and picked up Luk from his mom's shop and then headed by tram to his neighborhood, walking past some incredible buildings...this is one.

We had a lovely dinner of wursts and more while Luk played with his incredible         LEG-OPOLIS — more Legos than I knew existed (outside of FAO Schwartz in 
New York)!

It was the best kind of evening — being in someone's home, eating, talk
ing, laughing, asking questions, sharing stories, and connecting  — across identities and nationalities.


  1. Denise, Thanks so much for sharing. Feel like I was there with you. Really would love to see Berlin some day!