Remember Mr. Peabody, the dog that had a boy, and his amazing Way Back Machine? How I wish there were a Way Back Machine so that we could go back in time and experience history as it happened. Since we cannot do that, I have another, more practical suggestion. Let’s go to the places where historical events occurred and learn about them right there and then. My first choice would be Berlin, and we’ll stop at three museums that will help us experience living on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall. These three distinct museums will allow us to dive in to the conditions during the Cold War. And you could do it in one day. So, let’s get started.
DDR Museum: Cold War History You Can Touch
The first stop of the day is the DDR Museum. DDR stands for Deutsche Demokratische Republik. The DDR Museum located along the Spree River across from the Berliner Dom. It is one of the most visited museums in Berlin because everyday life can be experienced here. If you had lived in East Germany and now had children or grand children, you might want them to know what you experienced during that time. Telling them is helpful, but showing them is what will open their eyes. Visitors to the DDR Museum who lived elsewhere during this era or who heard about it in history class probably had no idea how life was until now.
Here’s what you can see, touch, feel, and even smell when you come here.
1. A complete DDR apartment as existed in one of the high rise housing estates. The exhibits are user friendly, and many allow you to open doors and drawers, press buttons and levers and play with to see more information. This experience is interactive and hands on. See, feel, touch and experience what it was like to live in an apartment that looks normal but is bugged by the Stasi. The living room has a real DDR smell.
2. Experience what it was like to be cross examined by the Stasi.
3. Walk into a prison cell and sit on the bed.
4. Sit in a Trabent or Trabi simulator and experience driving one these cold war era autos.
5. And so much more.
The DDR Museum is open 365 days a year and is self-financed from admission fees. They receive no state funding, and therefore there are no “free admission” days.
Palace of Tears (Traenenpalast)
The next stop is The Traenenpalast, or Palace of Tears and it was the border crossing for West German citizens. Entrance to this museum is free. Now we’ll get a good idea of what it was like during the Cold War to cross from West to East Berlin and back again.
The Traenenpalast is next to the Freidrichstrasse train and S bahn station. Did you have the feel of how desperate life must have been for East Berliners trapped in those conditions? If you did, then you’ll appreciate how difficult it must have been to visit with relatives from the West and then say goodbye to them in the Departures Hall, standing in front of the tall windows, not knowing if you would see them again. In the Departures Hall, you will hear the stories of those who lived through this period, tales of daily life, and of those who escaped. You’ll want to spend some time here. Go ahead and do that.
When you are fully appreciative of how much freedom was prized by those in captivity, let’s move on.
Marienfelde Refugee Center Museum
The final stop back in time is the Marienfelde Refugee Center Museum. “Dedicated to the history of flight and emigration in divided Germany” This center served about 1.35 million of the 4 million people who emigrated from East Germany. Their task was to provide refugees with housing and supplies. They also assisted them with the procedures necessary to gain residency permits for West Berlin and West Germany. It was a gateway to freedom and considered an enemy of the East German government because it reveals the weaknesses in the system. All of the services and charities that existed to assist refugees were housed here. You will gain more of an understanding of the refugee crisis during the Cold War.
Update: “Since December 1, 2010, the former refugee center located at Marienfelder Allee 66/80 has served as temporary housing for refugees and asylum seekers from many nations, including Serbia, the Russian Federation, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Lebanon, and others.”
Does experiencing travel that brings history alive appeal to you? This is an amazing way to teach your children and grandchildren in a way they will remember. Let’s pass along the lessons from history so that our children and their children don’t make the same mistakes.
If you would like to start to plan a trip today that is either all about history or includes memorable historic sights, Let’s Chat.
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