The Strangest Mu­se­ums

Rachel Stern vis­its Berlin’s most un­usual mu­se­ums, which pay homage to the ob­jects play­ing a strong sym­bolic role in the city’s his­tory.

Where Berlin - - CONTENTS -

Learn about Berlin through its quirki­est mu­se­ums. BY RACHEL STERN

"Ob­jects are what mat­ter,” the iconic Ger­man-born blue jeans cre­ator Levi Strauss once pro­claimed. “Only they carry the ev­i­dence that through­out the cen­turies some­thing re­ally hap­pened among hu­man be­ings.”

On In­ter­na­tional Mu­seum Day this 18 May, the cu­ra­tors at Berlin’s 175 mu­se­ums would likely agree that pre­served ob­jects tell a story. Yet these ar­ti­facts don’t only include fa­mous works of art or sci­en­tific cre­ations, but also ev­ery­day things, from the GDR’s fa­mous Tra­bant Car to the now ubiq­ui­tous

Cur­ry­wurst sausage. Per­haps Berlin’s big­gest tes­ta­ment to the cul­tural mer­its of our clut­ter is the

Mu­seum of Things (Oranien­str. 25, www.mu­se­umderdinge.de), which dis­plays 20,000 con­sumer ob­jects largely from the 21th cen­tury, from the re­mote-con­trol-sized flip-phones to then-nor­mal Nazi kitchen­ware from the 1930s. One ex­hibit on the Frank­furt Kitchen, de­signed in 1926, show­cases how a once-kitschy kitchen be­came a mod­ern de­sign pro­to­type.

For more in­sight into Ger­man culi­nary cul­ture, I headed to the Cur­ry­wurst

Mu­seum (Schützen­str. 70, www. cur­ry­wurst­mu­seum.com). As a veg­e­tar­ian, vis­it­ing an ex­ten­sive ex­hibit about a spiced meat had not been on my to-do list. Yet I sur­pris­ingly en­joyed the mu­seum, which is full of de­tails of a divided Berlin. It de­scribes, for ex­am­ple, how a food kiosk owner ob­tained curry spices from Bri­tish sol­diers for it in 1949, and how the prod­uct was pop­u­lar­ized in both the East and West.

The nearby Trabi Mu­seum (Zim­mer­str. 14-15, www.trabi-mu­seum.com) feels like a GDR auto show, dis­play­ing the on­ce­beloved Bee­tle of the East. Auto fans will ap­pre­ci­ate the nos­tal­gic and col­or­ful dis­play of the cult cars and the his­tory be­hind them. Man­u­fac­tured for three decades start­ing in 1958, the Tra­bant had a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing slow, clunky, and un­com­fort­able. Yet it was the most pop­u­lar car in the GDR, and quickly came to sym­bol­ize the failed East Ger­man state af­ter the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

To ex­pe­ri­ence more Os­tal­gia, Ger­mans’ term for nos­tal­gia for the GDR, I vis­ited the tiny but com­pre­hen­sive Mu­seum

of Un­heard of Things (Crellestr. 5, www. mu­se­umderuner­ho­er­tendinge.de). Amid

its eclec­tic ob­jects, I found spe­cial clocks and can­dles only made in the GDR and cult film para­pher­na­lia. Among this cham­ber of cu­riosi­ties, I viewed ob­jects I in­deed had never heard of be­fore, such as a hy­brid of an olive and an acorn, and a piece of pet­ri­fied ice from the sec­ond ice age, ca. 800 mil­lion years ago.

Such hid­den trea­sures are also found en masse at the De­sign­panop­tikum: Mu­seum

of Sur­real In­dus­trial Ob­jects (Torstr. 201, www.de­sign­panop­tikum.com), which feels like walk­ing through a strange Dali-es­que dream­scape. The owner is al­ways on hand to an­swer ques­tions about the ob­jects, which range from bizarre med­i­cal equip­ment to junk­yard gems found only in Ger­many.

I also took a fur­ther fun step back in time at the Com­puter Game Mu­seum (Karl-Marx-Allee 93A, www.com­put­er­spiele­mu­seum.de), a hands-on mu­seum play­ing homage to games through­out the ages that cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion – when one needed a lot of imag­i­na­tion for them. Be­fore the days of fancy spe­cial ef­fects, guests lined up for three weeks in 1951 at the Berlin In­dus­trial Show to play one of the world’s first

com­puter games, the Nim­rod. Play­ers took turns re­mov­ing one ob­ject, with the goal of be­ing the one to re­move the last ob­ject.

Pay­ing homage to an icon revered in Berlin’s al­ter­na­tive mu­sic cul­ture, the Ra­mones Mu­seum (Ober­baum­str. 5, www.ra­mones­mu­seum.com ) show­cases the 22-year his­tory of the New York punk band that pro­duced a slew of catchy hits such as I Wanna Be Se­dated and Blitzkrieg Bop. Mu­sic fans can browse through more than 300 ob­jects from the punk rock mas­ters, from box­ers to vinyl al­bum cov­ers. Re­cently re­opened in March at a new lo­ca­tion in fit­tingly al­ter­na­tive Kreuzberg, the mu­seum also hosts per­for­mances from lo­cal artists, link­ing Berlin’s pioneer­ing past with its present.

Far left and this image: De­sign Panop­tikum; Cen­ter: The Cur­ry­wurst Mu­seum; Be­low: The com­put­er­spiele­mu­seum.

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