If anybody doubts that differences between West and East Berlin remain, I would recommend going to the charming and goofily German Maerkisches Museum and comparing that experience to any of the museums in West Berlin. I knew about this Museumonly because I tracked down a painting that had once been in the Berlin Museum of West Berlin to this one, and discovered that the collections of the Berlin Museum had been integrated into this institution, which had been in East Berlin before the Wall fell; a very complicated example of museum politics of the most intense sort: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%A4rkisches_Museum. (For the painting I was looking for, see my blog entry of June 8, https://esauboeck.wordpress.com/2015/06/08/frau-rexroth-kern/).
While it appears that big plans are afoot to expand this Museum, now it still has the aura of an old-fashioned provincial museum, with all the charm of those places: a hodge podge of objects, some of them extremely valuable and well documented, while other items are curiously lacking in information. One room, for example, is dedicated to the story of the Beer/Meyerbeer family, the most important Jewish intellectual family in 18th-century Prussia and family of Giacomo Meyerbeer, with full documentation of the family and filled with artifacts of their lives. But a fascinating stone carving of a mermaid has no identification at all. There are lots of objects representing the Berlin Bear from all eras –some mystifyingly brief in identification, while others have full records and provenance.
The upper floor contains a very moving display of the photographs made by the British photographer Cecil Newman, made right after the War as part of a commission by the British for the reconstruction of the City of Berlin. Pictures such as this one, of the thousands of displaced persons being taken care of in Red Cross camps, tell another of the many traumatic stories of this city.
More than anything, though, it was the people in the Museum that seemed from another world than hip, bustling Berlin. In the shop–where G. was delighted to find REAL old-fashioned dipping ink pen– the woman at the desk, when we asked her for a good place to eat, spurned the rather nice looking fish restaurant on the Spree in favor of Schmucks Restauration, as having “real” food. It was obvious that all of the people running the Museum were East Berliners.
And here’s what we found at Schmucks: A workers’ meal and surroundings that appeared not to have changed since the 1960s. The food wasn’t any good, but we wouldn’t have traded the experience for the world.
After this time-warp of an experience, we went over to the West. Here I found the building of the “old” Berlin Museum had been turned into a part of the Juedisches Museum, incongruously joined to the controversial Libeskind extension. In the process, this Baroque villa has lost the wonderfully gemuetlich cafe it had back in the 1970s when I first visited it. It was a famous spot, with lots of singing canaries and the best Weissbier mit Himbeersaft–white beer with raspberry juice, a Berlin specialty.
I will write more about these differences on another day, when I talk about our visit to the Martin-Gropius-Bau.