The dinosaurs were so brilliant. I can’t imagine why they ever bothered to die off in such large numbers.
– (Not) The Natural History Museum, London
On Tuesday I visited a sarcastic museum. It was the DDR museum in Berlin. To explain: most museums I’ve visited in the past have had almost painfully uncontroversial narratives and descriptions. So if you go to the natural history museum in London you will see exquisitely applied scientific vagueness, understandably so when figuring out exactly why certain things may have happened millions of years ago. Or if you go to the Hiroshima peace museum in Japan, there is a controlled, quiet rage behind the exhibits, which shows great restraint in the circumstances.
The Berlin DDR museum takes a different approach, somewhere between gentle sarcasm and outright derision. Can you believe that people really lived like this? Experience their shitty cars, which merely contained the kind of engine you’d find in one of capitalism’s many lawnmowers. And look at the funny fashions! These people were sincerely attempting to make a functioning society using authoritarian socialism, the museum chuckles, and this was quaint, banal, and occasionally evil.
And, of course, they have a point. But here’s a quote from the caption describing a typical May Day:
Dad drank his beer, whilst mum queued up at the sausage stand. Eat drink and be merry – cheers to international socialist solidarity
Which is fine, I suppose, if the museum is entirely aimed at arch Fukuyama scholars.
But plenty of people who lived through the DDR will visit the museum. What will they make of it? They’ll be bringing their kids and relations to give them an insight beyond Goodbye Lenin and Ostalgie.
And from this perspective it is, I think, slightly lacking.