Haus der Geschichte – Bonn

As I had the days between Christmas and New Year’s off, I wanted to do something. Actually I wanted to see an exhibition in Bonn about some rare pictures of the world before 1914 in colour. But when I researched the whole thing I stumbled about the Haus der Geschichte in Bonn. It is a museum dedictated to show the history of the Federal Republic of Germany, so everything that happend here since World War II and is packed with all kinds of exhibits from the last 70 years from an postwar holy communion dress purely made of gauze bandages because the seamstress had nothing else to work with, to an Russian tank. I’m an enthusiast when it comes to history so I was more than happy to swap the expensive photo exhibition for the free Haus der Geschichte when Michael suggested going there instead. Haus-der-Geschichte-Bonn-special-exhibitionBut first we visited the special exhibition showcasing the special history Germany hawith the US. It showed how the American Occupation after the war was viewed by Germans during the ages. Having grown up in the American Occupation zone in Germany, this was especially interesting for me. I grew up in Giessen and than in Darmstadt, both cities with huges army settlements. I remember my mum saying that when she learned to drive that one of the first things she learned was never to have an accident with an American car because this would be settled by an Amercian court not a German one and here Germans hardly ever won. For me on the other hand the experience was different. I was born in 1983, 38 after the end of World War II. Yet the word “barack” (and I’m not talkin of the German equivalent “Kaserne”) for me was part of my vocabulary. In the first years of my life I knew that there were American soldiers living in the my towns and that certain areas where they lived where off limits to me but I never questioned this. Only later when I grew older I thought that this was actually quite weird. But then this was also because I was old enough for going out and you would come across US soldiers once in a while and they would ask you out on a date. I especially remember one time when I tried to explain to that one guy that him asking me out why dinner would never happen. He told me that he had his own car and could pick me up to drive me to dinner. Why did I refuse? Well because that’s just not the way it works in Germany. I guess most girls wouldn’t go on a first date with a guy they hardly know at all (better get to know him at an casual meeting with his and your friends first). And if they would certainly not let him pick her up with his car (didn’t your mum tell you, you shouldn’t get into a car with a stranger?). I’m not sure he understood why I refused his surely polite offer for a date though…

Haus-der-Geschichte-Bonn-1The exhibition let you make you way through the ages with objects of the certain time the parts where about. Of course the exhibition was clustered by topic too to encompass topics that were relevant in different periods. It started with the time after 1945 when people had to start “acknowledging” the holocaust, a “denazification” started and millions of people where looking for their relatives that they had lost sight of during the war. I’m always broken-hearted when I see the pictures of Auschwitz or Buchenwald but I also nearly cried when I watched a movie outtake from a film where they filmed kids that had lost their parents, mostly on the great flight from the East. Small kids, sometimes babies, where they didn’t even know their names, were smiling timidly into a camera hoping someone would come and pick them up again one day.Haus-der-Geschichte-Bonn-2Next we got to see how the two new states evolved, West and East Germany. I still remember lots about it from my history lessons but seeing fitting exhibits was really interesting. They also show lots of political extracts that could read at least parts of. But there are other things as well, normal life things like short outtakes of the most famous movies, dresses and house hold goods or the first products Germany could produce and sometimes export again. Next we ventured on to see a part that talked about the Berlin wall or rather the Inner German Frontier where many people died during the years. Haus-der-Gecshichte-Bonn-3After a more product related part and parts about the German politics towards the East and about the more or less bloody revolutionary times in the 70s and early 80s last of course came the Reunification part. There are certain scenes that you always get to see around the opening of the wall day in November and for German Unification Day. There are some sentences that make my eyes wet even though I don’t remember seeing them live, I was six at the time. But Genscher standing at the Western Germany embassy in Prague in the summer of 1989 telling the people from Eastern Germany that were camping there that they were allowed to leave this country and move to West Germany makes me want to cry each time and I don’t even know why. Probably because it is such a moving, emotional moment.

Or the declaration that Schabowski is giving on Eastern Television on the 9th of November 1989 how the travel laws have been loosend and that everyone who wishes to cross the border to West Germany is allowed to do so without any difficulties. And when asked when this law change will take place he doesn’t know and says: “Well, I guess that is from this moment on.” Why is it emotional? Because from there history changed.

I think there are many emotional scenes that happend especially on that day but one that is probably best known is the woman who wants to walk through the Brandenburg Gate which is guarded by East German police man. The scene looks nearly staged but I guess that was just the whole emotion from this night was so high. And because nobody knew what would come that next day (it starts in the video around 3:00). Who knew that Germany would be reunited within a year. Not me certainly. I remember being on holidays with my parents over the 3rd of October 1990 and I could read enough to read the headlines of the German Newspaper my parents had bought that day. I read something like “Germany is one again” and me, being 7 years old just asked my dad: “But why were there two Germanys?”. He didn’t know how to explain it.

Well but back to the museum. Even though this was now 23 years ago not that much followed after the reunification part. I guess they have to update this soon. But it was 6pm by then anyway and the museum closed. So we wouldn’t have had the time to see more had there been more.

Now what is the conclusion: I can really heartly recommend the museum to people interested in history. You can certainly learn a whole lot about Germany here in a very entertaining and interesting way. There is only one thing that could be a bit difficult for non-Germans: except for the special exhibition everything is only labelled German but as far as I know there are English audioguides.

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