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Fitted wall cabinets, retro wallpaper, an old Erika typewriter alongside everyday items made from plastic and synthetic rubber: this is your typical East German living room. The DDR Museum brings the German Democratic Republic back to life. Visit a typical, 120 square metre Plattenbau flat and, at the same time, learn about Stasi surveillance techniques, the history of East Germany, and about the everyday life of people in the former Soviet occupied zone.
During the time of the GDR, the eastern part of Berlin is the capital of the Socialist Unified State. The wave of nostalgia at the beginning of the 2000s raises questions about why, since reunification, there is no exhibition in Berlin depicting the East German experience. This is exactly what Freiburg ethnologist Peter Kenzelmann thinks when he arrives in Berlin in 2004. He takes charge of the project and opens the DDR Museum in the heart of the city. It is an instant success – in the first year, 180,000 people come to experience everyday life in former East Germany. In 2008, and again in 2012, the house is nominated for a European Museum of the Year Award by the European Museum Forum (EMF).
The theme of the museum is participation and immersion. The GDR exhibition shows many sides to everyday life, private as well as social. In 27 themed areas, you can see, for example, postcards sent home by children attending a Free German Youth holiday camp. In the media section, listen to East German music and stories about visits to the West. On the second floor is a five room flat furnished with astonishing attention to detail: look through the school jotters in the children's room, and see the GDR produced hats, skirts and shirts hanging in the wardrobe. Walk through into the kitchen, and you'll see the typical Resopal cabinets, spice racks and the ultra-modern pressure cooker – or revel in memories on the living room sofa. After leaving the house, you'll be in the Trabi area. Now a cult vehicle, you'll forget all about your own car. Turn the key in the ignition, hear the engine rattle and the pedals squeal as you press down on the accelerator. The 3D simulation in windscreen makes you feel like you're really driving past the shopping malls and prefabricated Plattenbau buildings of East Berlin. Finally, leave East Germany through a hole in the Wall.
Things not to be missed
A ball used in an East-West Germany football match.
A Volvo 264 TE from the ministerial fleet.
A Socialist Unity Party conference table in the boardroom with touch screen.
Prison cell with original items from Erfurt and Bautzen.
Fogscreen with floating Plattenbau concrete slabs - a type of interactive canvas.
Other points of interest in the area
The DDR Museum is located directly opposite Museumsinsel. The five museums here are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are recognised the world over for their valuable collections. Opened in 1830, you can see some of the best in art and culture from ancient Greece and Rome here. In the Neues Museum, meet one of the most famous women in Berlin: the bust of Nefertiti - a definite highlight of the Egyptian Museum. Then pay a visit to the late classicist building of the Altes Museum with its impressive staircase, where you can travel back in time to the early Romantic period and enjoy landscapes by Caspar David Friedrich. At the top of Museumsinsel, you will find the sculpture collection, the Museum of Byzantine art and the coin collection in the Bode-Museum. One of Germany's most visited museums, the Pergamonmuseum, is also located here, along with the Museum für Islamische Kunst. Among other things, see the enormous Ishtar Gate with its golden decoration. If you head in the direction of Alexanderplatz, it takes around 10 minutes to walk to the Fernsehturm (TV Tower). Take a 35 second ride in a glass lift to the top of Berlin's trade mark tower for fantastic views across city.
Our tips for your visit to the DDR museum
The DDR Museum is open daily, including Mondays. The best day to visit for a long tour is Saturday, as the house is open until 10pm. Groups, including school groups, pay a discounted price, and the Berlin WelcomeCard gives you a 25% discount. The Alexanderplatz junction is close to the museum, from where underground, trams and buses arrive, and it's 10 minutes' walk from there to the museum. Alternatively, take a tram to the Spandauer Straße/Marienkirche stop – the M4, M5 and M6 lines bring you almost to the entrance. There is an underground car park in Alexanderplatz. As with most car parks in the city centre, parking charges apply.