Time travel through German history in the Deutschlandmuseum Berlin
The Deutschlandmuseum Berlin is like no other museum we have ever experienced. You get 2000 years of German history presented interactively and educationally as 12 epochs. You leave feeling as if you’ve truly lived the history.
In the Deutschlandmuseum Berlin, you travel through time, experiencing segments of Germany history as if you were there. The museum states that visitors will experience 2000 years of German history and 12 epochs in just one hour. That’s quite the promise, but the museum claim is not too far off.
Therese and I visited in August 2023 — just 2 months after it opened — and spent a thoroughly entertaining and educational one hour and 20 minutes. We both left feeling as if the museum was one of the best we’d ever visited, from the lively presentation of what could be a dull subject, to interactive screens where you tested your knowledge with quizzes and games, to realistic exhibits that made you feel as if you were living in the moment.
Time travel begins in 9 A.D., deep in the forest of what is now western Germany. It was here where the Germanic tribes, under the leadership of Arminius, defeated the Roman army at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. I had recently watched a Netflix series, “Barbarians,” which is a fictionalized account of events during the Roman Empire’s occupation of Germania that led to the rebellion of the Germanic tribes. And now, here we were, in the forest, walking with Roman legions, and barbarians slipping through the shadows and trees on either side of us.
Having survived the barbarians, Therese and I moved on to the year 955 where we would meet Otto the Great, King Charlemagne, and play witness to the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire.
Leaving the early Middle Ages, we found ourselves climbing creaking castle stairs toward the year 1212 and a world of feudal lords and knights. I took a few moments to peek out the castle windows onto a jousting tournament being held in the courtyard below.
We passed through another castle door and suddenly we were in 1517 — an epoch known as the Reformation. Here we learned about the division of the church by Martin Luther as well as other religious tidbits, such as the real reason behind the Catholic practice of “selling indulgences.” An indulgence was a monetary payment to the church that promised to absolve one of past sins. Perhaps not surprisingly, the number of indulgences sought after and granted increased substantially whenever the church needed money.
The printing press was also invented during this time by Johannes Gutenberg, and we especially enjoyed printing our own bookmarks at the replica of a Gutenberg Press. Yes, we did this by pushing buttons on a computer to choose fonts and style – no dropping lead type onto plates — but it was still very cool to walk away with a personal souvenir.
We departed the Reformation without having to pay any indulgences, thankfully, and entered the year 1740. This was the start of a period known as the Enlightenment. Here, in a very blue room, we met German intellectuals such as Kant, Goethe, and Schiller. This was an era when the middle-class population grew, and artists and intellectuals gained prominence. In fact, during the 18th century, Berlin boasted one of the highest concentrations of “creatives” in Europe at 1.2 percent of the population. That trend has continued into the present as an EU Commission study placed Berlin as the 5th most creative city in Europe.
But this epoch wasn’t just about creativity. It was also a time when military strength was on full display leading to the rise in power of the Germanic kingdom known as Prussia and its greatest rival, Austria, which, like Prussia, also wanted control of all of Germany.
From there, we wandered into 1848 and witnessed the German states finally unified through revolution and the Wars of Unification.
But, as we quickly discovered, peace and prosperity for the German people in the time of Kaiser William II and Otto von Bismarck would be short lived. Our time travel plunged us into the trenches of the First World War, which began in 1914 and ended in 1918. The air in the museum actually smelled like gunpowder and the trenches shook with the sounds of nearby explosions. A peek out of an authentic periscope used to observe the battle field without getting shot by a sniper, revealed carnage.
We departed the trenches and just like that, we were in a period known as the Roaring 20s. War, it seemed, was forgotten as Germans celebrated with dance, music, and style. The Weimar Republic, the first constitutional federal republic in Germany, unified the country around one democratic government.
As Therese and I entered 1933, the feeling of unity and celebration vanished under the dark shadow of the Third Reich.
Walking in a long hallway lined on either side with dark silhouettes frozen in the Nazi salute accompanied by the feverish, rhythmic chanting of “Sieg Heil” reverberating through speakers, was chilling in the way it vibrated deep into your bones.
The echoes of “Sieg Heil” waned amid the thunder of bombs, artillery shells and sounds of war leaving by 1945 a fully defeated and destroyed Germany. Germany would rebuild, but it was now divided with the four axis powers controlling their sections, which soon grew into an East-West division – and the Berlin Wall.
As we descended stairs from the apartment, a window above was being realistically bricked up on the outside (thanks, modern VR), a reminder of what it was like to have a home in East Germany along the Berlin Wall. Interactive displays in the next room of time travel through German history perfectly displayed the differences between East and West Germany prior to the wall coming down.
Entering the 1990s era, we first found ourselves inside S-Bahn train cars where the windows were playing realistic videos depicting scenes of celebration as the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989. The country was finally unified again after 28 years as one democratic Germany. Not long after the official unification of Germany in 1991, the European Union was founded.
One hour and 20 minutes after walking through the turnstiles, our time machine voyage took us from the 1990s S-Bahn … and dropped us straight into the present-day museum gift shop. A reminder that “paying indulgences” takes on many different forms, even today.
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