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.
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.