Mitte Museum Berlin

It’s Sunday, so Frances is going to museums! This time with a companion, Dasniya, and to the museum closest to my bed that I know of: Mitte Museum Berlin. The Mitte Museum is one of twelve of the Berliner Regionalmuseen, each covering one of the city’s Verwaltungsbezirk – administrative districts – its history, culture, people, and is just around the corner in Pankstr. I’ve biked past it for years and now that I have my regular weekend museum visit project it was obvious to be one of the first.

I don’t have any plan of which museum I’ll go to next; it sort of emerges in the course of the week, random passings-by spurring my interest or random remark from someone. Today was a very lazy start to the day so it befitted the tempo that I would choose not one of the imperial monsters, rather try something quotidian.

The museum itself is spread over three floors and several rooms. It would be possible to whirl through it in 20 minutes but the reading is as important as the looking and a leisurely 3-4 hours is worth it. The ground floor contains the Mitte-Tiergarten-Wedding timeline going from 12th Century ’til today, and the Alltag, daily life in Wedding around 100 years ago for a working class family living in a Hinterhof, following the work of the mother. They sleep seven to a small room, she is up first, cooking, then once the father is off to work and children departed does the clothes washing (by hand, boiling the water with a fire), cleaning, then off to the market to buy potatoes and bread, returning home to earn some extra income sewing for the garment industry, then cooking dinner – those potatoes, before more cleaning while husband sods off to down some Schnapps at the Kneipe. Sleep and repeat. This leads off to the pre- and post-war housing reform, renovation of Altbau and the building of the Neubau. One of my favourite housing projects in Berlin, the Afrikanische Str Viertel which I thought was ’40s early high modernism but turns out was built in the ’20s.

The first floor contains the various histories of the land and its use, from the days of Gesundbrunnen being just that, a health spa, to the height of the industrial age when it was wall-to-wall factories and squalid apartments, the post-war demolition and rebuilding, and the post-boom years dwindling of the same factories, putting thousands out of work and preparing those factories for occupation by artists such as we in the Uferhallen.

One room was devoted to the culture of the district, especially that of the revue theatres, from Friedrichstadt-Palast to the sadly destroyed Lichtburg, the vast 2000-seat theatre where Marlene Dietrich once played, now replaced by the equally vast yet wholly mediocre Gesundbrunnen mall at the Bahnhof. I thought this could be an exhibition in itself: the history of Berlin’s theatres, which then made me wonder just how many theatres are there in Berlin? Proper theatres, that is; not converted factories or other repurposed sites, but ones that were built for stage and live productions.

Amongst this all were maps, photographs, documents, dioramas (I especially liked the one of Barricade Wedding, a pitched gun battle in the 19th century between army and revolutionaries); the history of Red Wedding is another that deserves its own exhibition. Also quite surprised to find that Luisenbad and its gardens were right around the corner, more-or-less where the Library is today. And there was a massive immigration of Huguenots in the 16th century during their religious persecution. Perhaps not quite enough on the Turkish history here, considering they make up close to 1 in 5 of the population of Wedding and Gesundbrunnen. Oh, and a lot of breweries.

Lastly there are books, various histories of Wedding, which like all books in this city are improbably cheap and simply encourages profligacy. Also there is a donation box, because the Mitte Museum Berlin is entirely free.