I think it would have been difficult to visit Berlin and NOT go to the DDR Museum, as its advertisements are prominently displayed throughout the city. In addition to that, it was literally right next to my hotel, so I couldn’t even use laziness as an excuse not to go. Not that I was a particularly reluctant visitor, as the reviews were overwhelmingly positive, praising the many interactive exhibits. I was a bit put off by the queue to get in, but naively assumed they wouldn’t let everyone in if the museum was filled to capacity. How wrong I was. We paid 7 euros each, and scanned our tickets in the Ampelmann barriers (he’s the little green man on crosswalk signs in Germany, and is apparently much better than green men in other countries because he is wearing a hat and shoes) for entrance…and were met with utter chaos.
The pictures above should give you some idea of how many people were crammed into this relatively small (only two main rooms) museum. Clearly, the advertisements work, which is great for them, but they need to institute some kind of timed ticket system or something, because as things stand now, it is a most unenjoyable experience. I don’t relish having to push my way through crowds of fat smelly teenagers (for real, there were some serious B.O. problems happening in there, and the cramped conditions weren’t helping matters) to look at things. The most crowded display was a Soviet car you could climb into; there was a queue stretching half the length of the museum to get in, and these people weren’t budging. It might have helped if they had simply climbed into the car, snapped a picture, and got out, but nope – there were middle-aged men sat in there pretending to drive for minutes at a time, I mean, really?!
I’ve somehow gotten halfway through this review without even telling you what the museum is about, so I should remedy that now. It basically tells the story of life in the DDR, or East Germany, which was of course the Soviet half. However, this was a more lighthearted perspective on the DDR than at the Stasi Museum, or the Tranenpalast, as the DDR Museum chose to focus more on the mundane drudgery of everyday life, rather than the dark side of living under communism. Not that those subjects weren’t addressed, but they were done so in a playful way (that I supposed detracted from some of the harsh realities of life under the Soviet system), for example, a mock interrogation room where you could have the fun of pretending to torture your friends!
In addition to the interrogation room, there was also re-creations of a jail cell and a typical DDR era home, where you could theoretically touch and fiddle with everything, though you couldn’t in reality as it was so crowded and there was already a crowd of people plopped on the sofa to watch Soviet television. Another annoying feature of the museum, which would have been fine if it wasn’t so busy, was that most of the information wasn’t out in the open – the museum was set up as a series of walls covered in cabinets, and you had to open the drawers and lift the flaps to read everything, which you couldn’t do if someone was blocking the way, so it just added to the general inconvenience. There also seemed to be some “Disneyfied” touches in there for no reason at all, other than to increase the “interactivity,” for example, a spray of mist as you walked from one room to another and some portraits of Karl Marx and Lenin (and other some other communist, Engels, maybe?) with moving eyes that followed you around the room (which was neat, I’ll grant them that, but would have felt more at home in the Haunted Mansion than a museum).
There were, as promised, many interactive things, but I didn’t have a chance to use most of them as the smelly teenagers already had their paws all over everything. There was a short film, or game, or objects to look at under every one of these many flaps, but there was no way you could stand there and watch a film with a crowd of people waiting behind you, and though I did play a couple of the games, I felt like a jerk as I really had to hog the space to do so. One was a game where I was a factory manager trying to increase productivity, and the game told me I would have been an awesome manager under the communist system (maybe that’s where I’m going wrong, work-wise), in another I had to create the ideal communist by dressing up a girl from a selection of outfits and expressions (I was trying to make her look a bit like me, which led to the game informing me I did not look like a good communist, so now I’m not sure what to think).
The museum did have a lot of gen-u-ine Soviet artefacts, which was pretty cool, and seemed to be really aimed at capturing quotidian affairs, so there was a lot on fashion (ugly, everyone was desperate for Levis because Soviet jeans blew), travel (you could only travel to other Soviet countries, so lots of trips to the Baltic coast, especially to Nudist resorts. There were a LOT of nudists back then), and work. There were also some cute whimsical touches, like puppet versions of Soviet party leaders and the little military dove shown below.
Everything was in German and English, and the displays I was able to look at (by pushing through the crowds) were quite interesting, so I think this could have been a very good museum if they somehow regulated their visitors (and I was there on a Wednesday morning, so it really shouldn’t have been a peak time or anything). It is definitely quite a different approach than that taken by the Stasi Museum et al towards the DDR, and I think perhaps glosses over some of the worst parts of communism (or tries to turn them into a game, which is just as bad), but I think as long as you balance your visit to the DDR Museum with one to a more serious museum, you can still manage to get a good picture of Soviet German life. However, I’m going to have to majorly downgrade them for not doing something to limit the flow of visitors, as it ruined my whole experience. 2.5/5, but could have easily been a 3.5 or higher with proper crowd control.