Recently I visited 3 Berlin museums in a single day, impressive I know, 6 hours of intensive learning and culture. These were all good learning experiences; however the best one was delivered by someone Welsh, Shaun from Aberystwyth! I’m not being biased here, there are good reasons I’ll explain. I’m not going to give you a ‘Trip Advisor’ review, these are my personal criteria for deciding what makes a good experience at a museum, here goes:
1. Attendant Interaction. Did the museum attendants engage with me? Did they make me think or did they intimidate and make me want to leave?
2. Go backwards factor. Did I find myself going back to things I‘d already seen, for a second look? Zig-zagging my way around museums is an annoying personality trait, but the more I retrace my steps the better my experience.
3. Boring my family later. The more facts I can remember, to regurgitate to the family after the visit, the better the museum. Poor Geof, my cycling companion suffered this time.
Here are the scores for each of the establishments I visited:
Deutsches Historisches Museum The DHM is a traditional state run museum with free entry. It felt like most of the museums I’ve ever visited; lots of interesting things in glass cases with explanation cards for you to read. I visited the section covering 1918 to the present day and to be honest, by the time I’d made it to the Berlin Wall display I’d had enough.
Attendants: Impeccably dressed in smart uniforms. However there was no interaction. They just stood by with that intimidating “touch anything and you get thrown out” expression.
The tour: Very linear. Start at the beginning and dutifully “read” your way to the end, wasn’t tempted to retrace my steps once.
Remembering facts: One key fact about the Trümmerfrau, the ‘rubble women’ who helped reconstruct German cities after the war.
Overall score, a solid 6 out of 10. Most memorable thing, the intimidating attendants.
DDR Museum This was about the years of Soviet occupation in East Germany from 1945 until 1989. It is privately funded and claims to be one of the most interactive museums in the world. I won’t argue with that, it was fantastic, well worth the 6€ entry fee.
Attendants: If there were any I didn’t notice them. I was too busy opening doors, listening to covert recordings and sitting in the Trabant honking the horn. The place was packed, and everyone was so involved, I’d argue that you didn’t need Attendants.
The tour: This was ‘zig-zag’ heaven for me. There was no obvious linear path and I retraced my steps on several occasions. At the final door I headed back in for another view of a typical East German sitting room. I must admit it looked pretty similar a South Wales Valleys sitting room circa 1970’s……..
Remembering Facts: Plenty to ponder on here. Strange things keep coming back to me like how long it took for your Trabant to arrive (16 years) and the impact of lignite (brown coal) opencast mining.
Overall score, an 8.5 out of 10. The museum shop at the end was a bit too earnest.
Flak Tower Walking Tour This was a tour of one of the partly demolished Flak Towers built to deter bombers in 1941. You know it’s going to be serious stuff when they insist upon checking you have sensible shoes before they will sell you a ticket and recommend a warm coat because it will be cold. This cost 10€, was run by a ‘not for profit’ organisation and couldn’t have been more professional.
Remembering facts: Unfortunately poor Geof now knows more about the Flak Towers than he ever wanted to. I soaked it up like a sponge (3m thick walls, 100,000 cubic meters of concrete etc etc) and regurgitated it all to him, and my wife, kids, colleagues and complete strangers since I’ve got back home.
The tour: I did stay in line for this one. The environment was quite scary and it was very reassuring to have a Health and Safety Attendant at the back making sure nobody got lost.
Attendants: Absolutely brilliant and I’m not just saying that because he was Welsh. This was someone who loved the job. He was passionate about the subject, knew it in incredible detail and was happy telling you all about it. This was knowledge exchange and learning at its best.
Overall score, 11 out of 10. It was that good. All German museums should have a Welsh attendant.
So what’s the PONT?
1. The contrast between what I learnt from listening to and interacting with Shaun at the Flak Tower and reading cards in glass cases at the DHM was huge.
2. The acts of looking and reading feels much harder to do than listening to someone explaining and asking questions. 90 minutes at the Flak Tower flew past, even in the cold and dark.
3. People make a massive difference. An engaged and passionate guide at the Flak Tower turned a good experience into a fantastic one I’ll not forget for a long time, thanks Shaun.