Ok – it’s an odd fascination – but I actually enjoy History Museums – particularly if they are well done. They always tell you something about the culture of the country – or at least about what the government thinks is important to know.
Given the outlines of Current German history – Loved Napoleon, Hated Napoleon, Wanted a Democracy, Didn’t want a Democracy, Started World War I, Lost World War I, Had a Democracy that actually elected Hitler, Started World War II, Lost World War II, Got Divided, Got United, and now has a Democracy – well – the history museum in Berlin was bound to be interesting.
Particularly in comparison to say – Canada.
So we coughed up the big bucks – thank goodness for my Student Card – I was 1/2 price – and immediately started with the special exhibit on Leipzig 1813. Given that we’d just been there re-enacting the battle – seeing what the curators at the Deutsches Historisches Museum had to say was bound to be interesting. And it was. The exhibit – clearly taking the German point of view, started with a very famous painting showing the victors of the battle – the King of Prussia (Germany), Emperor of Austria and the Emperor of Russia – getting news of the victory. From there – the curators decided what to show – and what not to show.
The exhibit started with guns, wagon wheels and cannons – the tools of war. It also featured the skelton of a horse – found in a mass grave at the battle field site. From there it went into a brief history of Napoleon, from the point of view of his opponents. His errors are pointed out – and while mention of the Code Civil is made, the point is also made that the application of the Code was hardly even. Yes, feudal estates were broken up – but often they were just handed over to his relatives. And while his emphasis on promotion thru ability rather than family position was mentioned, it was also pointed out that his opponents learned the same lesson, and applied much of the same strategy by the end of the war. A lot of attention was focused on the forced draft in France – and the ‘volunteer’ armies of his opponents. Certainly the history they showed, and the history we thought we knew were quite different.
And as I’ve mentioned before – that’s what makes going to history museums in other countries so fascinating – there is always more than one point of view.
The exhibit ended with a short video about the re-enactment of the battle of Leipzig in 2012 – and in many ways – this was the most striking section. Instead of 6000 re-enactors – there were about 600 – and instead of using a portion of the actual battle field – they used the small field that we’d used to assemble just the french troops. Oh what a difference a year makes.
I left the exhibt amazed at the organization required to put on the re-enactment I had just participated in. It was incredible.
From that special exhibit, we worked our way over to the general section of the history museum, admiring the architecture as we went. The museum is huge – and we opted to skip most of it, and focus just on the sections that interested us most – 1778 onwards. The section for 1778 to 1816 – which covered the battles against Napoleon featured some wonderful pieces of art – including a painting of Napoleon in his corination robes – and most impressively – his hat, sword, and stirrups – left in his carriage at Waterloo in 1815 when he excaped after the disaster to Paris. Cool.
From there we read with great interest – and some surprise – the German perspective on the lead-up to World War I, the elation followed by the depression of the results of that war, and then the negative feelings about the treaty of Versaile. In the German history – it is that treaty more than anything else that brought about the conditions that allowed Hitler and his minons to appeal to such a wide audience. The museum contains a significant section effectively appologizing for the treatment of the Jews, the Roma, and the handicapped. There is no attempt to sugar coat that truth. The run-up to World War II is covered in great detail, as is what was happening in Germany during the war. After the war, the division is described, and the museum ends history in 2000 – 10 years after the fall of the Wall and the re-unification of Germany.
This is an outstanding muesum. Not one that you want to zip thru – but one that you want to slowly see – hear – experience. There are English signs in most sections, but getting the audio guide is well worth the small expense. The descriptions are absolutely reviting. We effectively got ‘kicked’ out by the closing bells.
Great Museum. Definitely a must go!