Deutsches Historisches Museum: A Ten-Mile Death March Down Memory Lane

“A young Adolf Hitler was rejected from art school in Vienna. One thing led to another, and the United States of America dropped two atomic bombs on the sovereign nation of Japan.” -Comedian Brian Regan


OK, so it wasn’t really as bad as a death march, but I’m just a fat American and I need to rest every so often.

Like everything else on this continent, the Deutsches Historische Museum (I swear to God, if you don’t know what that means you have a problem) is a beautiful building that’s crammed full of interesting things, to the point you are overwhelmed and wish you had just gone to the TV Tower for the nineteenth time since it’s less of a mental hassle. The place was so typically German, with signs everywhere explaining in the most minute detail all of the things you were gawking at and which the guy from Japan has taken a few thousand photographs of.

For those of you who were wondering, this is where that picture of the statue of Lenin comes from. He’s standing there in the entrance, a constant reminder of the surveillance state that used to exist on the grounds of the Museum.

So let’s begin with section one, which was approximately prehistory until 1918. As a fat American, I immediately sighed to myself in despair, knowing this would be a long day when I saw the word “prehistory”. We are used to history that begins approximately in 1607 and nothing much happens until 1776 or 1867. And in 1867 nothing much happened either, just a bunch of white guys signed a piece of paper that kind of gave Canada independence but not really while John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, battled a hangover as usual (that’s why he’s sitting in the photograph of them all and he looks like he wants to kill someone). We both had 1812, the War of Canadian Aggression, which shall soon be avenged by the Donald, but let’s get back to Germany. Because their history begins round the time of the Romans.

Let me give you a TL;DR of German history before we get into the nitty gritty, so no one gets lost:

  • Roman era: they’re destroying things up north and occasionally attacking Rome;
  • 400-1100:
    • They’re building a joke of an Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, made of up 1.500 principalities and kingdoms, while also sort of stealing Charlemagne from the French as their own;
  • 1100-1500:
    • they’re all fighting amongst each other and scuffling with the pope;
  • 1500-1648:
    • They get on the pope’s nerves;
    • Luther throws Europe into religious wars and then blame the Jews for their problems;
    • The modern nation-state ideal is created in Westphalia after Europe has been in flames for a few decades;
  • 1649-1800:
    • They’re basically just invading everyone as usual and there are like eight hundred wars over this guy or that guy becoming king of this place or other while he’s still king of that area and duke of over there, and it’s just generally messy;
    • Like really, Philip II of Spain marries someone and becomes Leopold III of Austria and Jan XIV of Bohemia and Duke Johannes V of Hannover or something, and this happens like ten times (that’s not a real example);
    • Germans write a ton of very confusing philosophical pieces;
  • 1800-1871:
    • The Germans get wise and begin to create some of their best philosophical works that haven’t already been made;
    • They industrialise; they decide maybe it’s a good idea if Prussia merges all these random small countries into one large one;
  • 1871:
    • Germany becomes a country after beating France, what a surprise;
  • 1871-1914:
    • Germany is ruled by a bunch of mustachioed gentlemen, all with Wilhelm in their names somewhere;
    • They think they are a colonial power;
    • Social democracy begins to some degree while Bismarck tries to stop socialism’s advance;
  • 1914-1918:
    • Germany lets their best friend drag them into a fight they can’t win even though they want to fight;
    • Wilson sticks his nose in everyone’s business and sacrifices merchant ships to fight them;
    • America saves the day yet again;
    • The French screw everything up for the next twenty years when they emasculate Germany and are just general dicks;
  • 1918-1933:
    • So this is the time I know the most about, and it’s very confusing so pay attention;
    • In 1919 the Empire is dismantled for a very inefficient and poorly planned democracy, but it was the best they could do given they had very limited time to plan it before surrender, since America would only negotiate peace with a democratic state;
    • There’s a revolution in 1919 and Liebknecht and Luxemburg are killed;
    • Everyone gets really decadent and naughty for a few years after they money becomes worthless and then is saved;
    • Expressionism falls out of style and New Objectivity becomes all the rage, and there are a lot of excellent silent films from the time that you really really have to watch;
    • The stock market crashes across an ocean so they end up becoming unstable yet again, and this is compounded by the fact that no party was brave enough to do what had to be done, so no one is actually doing anything with the power he has, and this makes people angry;
    • The President, Hindenburg, gets annoyed nothing is being accomplished, so he appoints Hitler as Chancellor in 1933 after a month of Hitler doing some politicking with Max von Papen, all in the hopes Hitler, with the largest but non-majority party can form a coalition;
    • The Reichstag catches on fire and Hitler takes full power;
  • 1934-1945:
    • Hitler destroys labour unions and replaces them with Nazi Party organisations, and does the same with every other part of life;
    • He takes a bunch of land from other countries, because they have many Germans on those pieces of land, and often they actually wanted to be in Germany and not that country they were in anyway;
    • On 1939 he invades Poland and the French just say, “Uh yeah screw you guys, we’re going to ignore all those treaties we had with you saying we were going to protect you”;
    • On spite of leaving Poland to die so that they could prepare their own defences, France is conquered in six weeks, and Hitler decides to act all unimpressed when he goes to Paris just like any Frenchman would act about anything;
    • Hitler invents blow-up sex dolls and they become standard issue in the Wehrmacht (Army) since too many soldiers are getting syphilis from French harlots;
    • Hitler invades basically anything with a border for a few years and then hits Stalin;
    • Stalin hits back after being knocked out and Roosevelt, no longer quite as occupied with Japan, sends troops into France;
    • De Gaulle then acts like he’s the one who freed France, and everyone for some reason obliges him;
    • Germany ends up being split a few ways;
  • 1946-1989:
    • Germany is split in two after the DDR and West Germany are founded in 1949;
    • The USSR builds a wall to keep people in their side of the world;
    • The USA and USSR almost destroy the entire Earth over this one city called Berlin on a few occasions;
    • East Germans take a lot of steroids and act like nothing ever happened;
    • The Israeli Olympic Team are all slaughtered by Palestinian terrorists in Munich;
    • Die Woodys, “Ich lieb’ dich nicht du liebst mich nicht”, “Der Kommissar geht um”, and other great pieces of German musical culture are created;
    • The Wall falls and Ronald Reagan takes all the credit;
  • 1990-present:
    • Germany is reunified and nobody is happy for some reason;
    • Germany ends up being the only responsible country in the EU just like they knew they would;
    • Germany ends up being the leader of the free world beginning a few days ago, until at least 2020;
    • Tourists take trashy photos at sites of atrocious breaches of human ability;
    • They build a bunch of awesome night clubs;
    • And here we are now, with Merkel.

Phew, that condensed German history was long, eh? Now just imagine a museum with artefacts from all these events and periods and more, yes, more, with signs everywhere. Pro tip: take two days.

Some of the most interesting artefacts were Frederick the Great, Wilhelm II, and Bismarck’s clothing; there were also tons of posters from the Weimar Republic, which is that confusing part up there. To be quite honest, I felt like a kid in a candy shop, staring at first-editions of Kant and Goethe and Social Democratic election posters from the 1920s.

But, typical Germans, they give you every single piece of detail you could ever want and everything has a long and drawn-out history. I made the further fatal mistake of reading all the signs in German, to practise, which slowed me down considerably. If I were a twelve-year-old white girl on study abroad, I wouldn’t even have read the signs in English. But I actually care about cultures and learning, unlike a twelve-year-old white girl on study abroad.

The Hungarian National Museum in Budapest was much the same, though smaller, and therefore more manageable. But there as well, I was surprised to see the history began at prehistory, whereas, again, in North America we have much shorter spans of time.

Just one sort of shocking example of just how old this civilisation is was some shattered pots from Spandau, a borough of Berlin. These pots were thousands of years old, and were exhumed from an area I have passed multiple times in the U-Bahn. The amount of history in every single one of these places is astounding.

Take the Brandenburg Gate, for example (this is off topic, I know). But Napoleon, all the Kaisers of Germany and Emperors of Prussia, Hitler, the Soviets, and others passed under that gate and walked on the same ground. This museum does a very good job of showing you just how much has occurred in this country the size of Texas over the past few thousand years.

But again, take two days and be ready to walk a long, long way.


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