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Therese Iknoian

Traveler | Photographer at HI Travel Tales
Little did her parents know that a short trip to Europe in high school would launch a lifetime love of travel, languages and cultures. Trained as a news journalist, Therese Iknoian spent a decade as a daily newspaper journalist before launching a freelance writing career specializing in outdoor, fitness and training. All the while trotting the globe, her focus finally turned to travel. Fluent in German, Therese runs a translation business (www.ThereseTranslates.com) working primarily with companies in the outdoor/sports/retail industry. Also a French speaker, she loves to learn a bit of the language wherever she goes -- gdje je kupaonica? Мне нужна помощь! -- often embarrassing herself in the quest for cross-cultural communication and the search for great travel discoveries.
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Whoever thought we would stay up all night to go to museums? When the Long Night of Museums in Berlin rolled around this year, however, we were there – along with many thousands of our best friends for the night. This year, the 20th birthday of the museum night drew more than 30,000 visitors all across Germany’s capital city.

Cutting the cake to celebrate 20 years of Long Night of Museums.

Cutting the cake to celebrate 20 years of Lange Nacht der Museen.

Organizers say this is where the popular global trend of annual museum days and nights started. With hundreds of museums from big to small taking part in Berlin, we wouldn’t be surprised. For this 20th-annual event in Berlin, there were some 80 museums and 800 special events flung far and wide around the city that took part – buy one ticket and get access to as many and as much as you can binge on from 3 p.m. Saturday until 2 a.m. Sunday morning.

HITT Tip: Pick up the thick brochure and map prior to the evening and study it a bit to plot your route and plan what you want to do.

Long Night of Museums kicks off in the sprawling park in front of the Cathedral of Berlin (“Berliner Dom” and the so-called “Lustgarten”) with a party you almost hate to leave for the museums – champagne and cake for hundreds, rockin’ music, strolling entertainers, and people, people, people of all nationalities. Everybody smiling on this sunny late-summer evening as the sun sets and casts a golden light.

Music celebration at opening of Long Night of Museums

Great organization moves tens of thousands around Berlin

One ticket, and you can use seven special shuttle routes connecting museums citywide, enjoy special entertainment, and use all regular public transit until 5 a.m. (Guess they think you’ll continue the party after museums close.)

Getting lost isn’t an option (OK, so after midnight we walked the wrong way once but, hey, it was late, and we were tired). Staff on every bus and at many stops as well as in several key areas hand out information and additional detailed maps and thick brochures describing what you can do and where to go. Even the digital public transit signage includes the Long Night of Museums shuttles so you know exactly when the next bus is.

Bus and shuttle signs were excellent during Long Night of Museums.

HITT Tip: To avoid our late-night wrong-way mistake, make sure you have a street map or pull up an online map so you go the right way from the start after disembarking.

It is impossible in fact to see and do it all (although we may try next year). We managed six museums plus spent time enjoying all the events and activities at both Potsdamer Platz (“Potsdam Square”) and the Kulturforum. (We tried to get into the Dali Museum, but the line was down the block! No time to wait with so much to see and so much to do on one museum night!)

Kulturforum at Long Night of Museums

Playing musical light cubes at the Kulturforum in Berlin.

The Long Night of Museums is not the time to go to one or two museums and dutifully read through all the exhibits; instead, it is a great time to explore smaller museums, taste-test a few you then may want to go back to and spend more time; or pop into ones you simply normally would not pay for. We of course skipped a number we had already seen or where we wanted to spend more time.

We tried out:

  • Ottobock Science Center. A small but outstanding interactive, modern museum with an emphasis on the senses, movement and how the body works. Try wheelchair racing and get the inside on how prostheses work. Super for kids.

Racing wheelchairs at Ottoblock Museum during Long Night of Museums.

Two visitors experiencing what it is like to race in wheelchairs at the Ottobock Museum.

  • German Spy Museum. Similar in many ways to the original Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., the Spy Museum in Berlin is also modern, interactive and very popular. Opened in 2015, it explains the development of spies, the history of spying and all the various ways they go about their work, including exhibits of tools of the trade and some hands-off demos.

Spy museum during Long Night of Museums

  • Dali Museum. Wanted to peek in but with that line? We had other museums to see. Oh well, perhaps next time.

Dali Museum long line during Long Night of Museums.

  • German Cinematic Museum for Film and Television. Next to a movie theater, the museum demands you spend a lot of time in dark rooms watching clips, TV shows and movies. Great for true buffs and filled with archives where historians can do research.

Film Museum during Long Night of Museums

  • Music Instruments Museum. Quite staid and proper but with a wide array of antique instruments as well as a large area about the development of today’s synthesizers and electronic music. Concerts too.

Musikinstrumenten museum at Long Night of Museums.

  • Wall Museum. Right near famous Checkpoint Charlie in tourist central, the so-called Wall Museum (“Mauer Museum”) used to be a quaint old museum at Checkpoint Charlie. Today it is a maze of rooms jammed with posters and old signage and some memorabilia from the Berlin Wall. Shows escapes and talks about tunnels and those who tried and failed. Interesting, of course, but not a modern or very well-done museum compared to most we have visited. Be ready to spend time in stuff-filled rooms reading huge placards with surprisingly poor English translations.

Mauer Museum at Long Night of Museums

  • Currywurst Museum. We chose to end our evening on a fun and crazy note. Something is just strange about a museum to what one could call a hot dog – the beloved Berlin sausage with curry sauce. (Normally it costs 11 Euro per person to get in…. Really?) The smallish museum near Checkpoint Charlie was packed, even after midnight. There, you take in everything currywurst – you can pretend you’re a short-order sausage cook in a food truck and serve up plastic sausages and fries. You can play a timed game slicing, dressing and serving an electronic sausage (Really, we are not kidding). You can hang out on a platform with huge, fake fabric ketchup clumps dripping down. You can even cuddle up (or maybe have a pillow fight) with giant stuffed French fries (Now, could we make that up?). Left us giggling at its strangeness.

Currywurst Museum at Long Night of Museums

HITT Tip: Bring a snack and a bottle of water since you may not want to spend time finding food or you may be in transit when hunger or thirst strikes. Oh, and do not forget your super comfy walking shoes!

Particularly enjoyable were all the special activities and light shows at the Kulturforum near Potsdamer Platz. In fact, the German Spy Museum we popped into had the most visitors of all the sites that night at an astounding 12,400. Many others had 5,000 to 8,000 drop-ins. The Kulturforum museum area with general festivities and three museums (Art Gallery, Arts and Crafts, Copper Engraving, part of the state-run museum group) drew 8,900.

This Long Night of Museums is actually the crown on a summer with all kinds of cultural and museum-ish events, called MuseumsSommer (“Museum Summer”). There are film festivals, workshops, guided tours and special exhibits through August.

Get packing now for next year’s long night. Got caffeine?