Berlin – Been There

Can humor and brutality co-exist in one museum?

French visitors sit inside a reproduction of a typical German Democratic Republic-era living room, their conversations relayed by hidden microphones, at the DDR Museum. The museum portrays daily life in Communist East Germany and gives visitors a chance to sit in a Trabant car, poke around  a standard-issue fitted kitchen and experience secret-police surveillance.

Photo by Adam Berry / Getty Images

Berlin – Been There

Can humor and brutality co-exist in one museum?

It’s an art to mix humor with history – especially when that includes Stasi spies, interrogations and the sinister practice of communal potty training. But this museum knows its craft, portraying an era from every perspective.

Meera Dattani
Meera Dattani Travel Writer

The DDR Museum in Berlin – DDR the German abbreviation for GDR, the German Democratic Republic – is certainly an exercise in Ostalgie, nostalgia for life in the former East Germany with its photographs, fashions, cars and culture. But it’s clever.

I poke around a mock-up of a GDR apartment. It’s innocuous enough with its 1970s kitchen and gadgets but there are hidden microphones in the very brown lounge. There’s a program on the TV – or is it propaganda? The Berlin museum excels in portraying everyday life under the regime.

Some exhibits are purely for fun. Sit in an old Trabi car or watch the 1974 soccer game ‘East Germany vs West Germany’. From the help-yourself wardrobe, filled with Communist-era clothing, I pick a Paisley print dress to strut about in. As a child of the 80s, I’m well-versed in bad fashion.

But the chill factor surges in the Stasi interrogation room. A ministerial Volvo shows another side to ‘socialism’. A puppet exhibit mocks the one-party electoral system. Panels show how state control extended to the curious, creepy practice of communal potty training. This may be history light, but it’s done perfectly. The next-door restaurant even specializes in East German food. Time for Jägerschnitzel.

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