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Museum Marathon

I was extra brave today and navigated myself via complex subway system to four museums. Okay, that's not entirely true. Ganesh helped me buy the ticket. He also went on the train with me a few stops to show me how it works. Showing me how to validate my ticket and open the subway doors, for example. And maybe he also looked at the train maps and figured out which trains I needed, where I needed to change trains, and how many stops to travel on each one. His detailed instruction made it super easy and I didn't get lost at all. But I was super independent. Really.

There is a labyrinth underground filled with trains and shopping malls and food. Who knew. I got a one-day pass for the U-Bahn system and so I was motivated to see all the museums today.

The first one I went to was the Jewish Museum, which I wasn't originally planning to go to, but when I saw the outside of the building from the bus tour a few days ago, I thought it looked really cool so I had to go. I might be so bold to say that it was the highlight of the trip thus far. It was really amazing. The architecture of the building was incredible. The entire building is made of non-rectangular structures. So every room has at least one wall that is slightly off. The main giant hallway, it was the floor that was slightly going down hill before it went upstairs up one giant, straight staircase. The main exhibit was not in normal shaped rooms, it was along a zigzagged path through the complex building, with occasional windows that opened up into "voids" showing nothing but inner negative space made of cement. 

The best thing ever was the "Memory Void Room" which contained an art installation by Menashe Kadishman called "Fallen Leaves." This void was a giant slot about three stories tall with one little slit of natural light coming in at the top. Along the floor were thick metal slabs that had messily-welded face shapes cut out of them. At the far end of the room a door was just barely visible in the dark. I walked up to where the faces started on the floor but I hesitated, unsure if I was supposed to walk on them or not. It didn't feel comfortable to walk on the faces. But was I supposed to reach that door at the other end? I stayed there and snapped a few photos. Then a high-school group came along and they proceeded instantly to walk out onto the faces. I was initially surprised at what happened. Loud clanging sounds from the metal plates shifting started to echo up into the chamber. They had to walk slowly since it was unstable, and made their way to the far end. To my surprise, they all had to turn back once they got to the door. There was no way out except to go back. 
The artist said this represents war and how people are the ones that suffer and are trampled on. The guide of the high school group appreciated the psychological discomfort that this piece creates. "People always hesitate to walk on the faces," she said, "but once someone does it, everyone follows. And once you step on it, you are forced to hear the sounds that you are creating, and watch yourself stepping on the faces." No one added the significance of the door at the other end. I wanted so badly to comment, but I was just a bystander so I didn't say anything. I thought it was profound that part of the initial draw is to "get to the other side," that is, walking on the faces is a means to an end. You are willing to go through this psychological discomfort because you think it will get you somewhere. But then the harsh reality hits you when you can't go through the door that it was all for nothing, and you are forced to walk all the way back. Genius.

I went to walk through the rest of the museum and it was pretty fun. Lots of stuff about jewish traditions and accomplishments.
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also there was this room of exile that was similarly creepy. This building messes with your mind, and this architect is brilliant.

I then left this place and went to the "Topography of Terror" which is a museum that documents all atrocities of the Nazis. But it was a ton of reading and not quite what I expected. I learned a few things though. I was happy to learn that it was free admission into this museum. But then I realized that, really, what message does it send to charge admission to a museum that documents all the horrible things the past government did? So it made sense.

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Next I went to the Bauhaus Museum, and the best thing about this museum was the shop, except everything was too expensive to actually buy. I was feeling pretty bummed after this place because I just walked such a long way and took the train and everything. After the high of the Jewish Museum, the Topography and the Bauhaus were such a let down. The Bauhaus didn't allow photography and I found that really disturbing. How can you be the one special snow flake out of the all the museums I have been to so far?

I would like to take a brief interlude to complain about the museum shops. None of them have a single t-shirt or item with a cool museum logo on it, or anything interesting. All the cool stuff from the shops are very expensive, and all the affordable stuff doesn't have anything to do with the museum itself. Haven't they heard of souvenirs?

Then I went to the photography Museum, which is mostly Helmut Newton's private collection. I saw the famous "Big Nudes" in the flesh—so to speak—so I guess that is something. The best part of this place was the temporary exhibit called "Watching You Watching Me—a photographic response to government surveillance." And there was a series that some guy did that was such a cool idea, though arguably not his own photography. He scoured Google maps for people that they forgot to remove from the scene, blurry pixelated people. Then he traveled to that exact location and some how printed their image into the wall behind the spot where they really stood. He has done this all over the world. I am amazed by his dedication. Two of such blurry google map ghosts were on the outside of the photography museum itself.

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Another pretty snarky series was from this guy that was investigated as a possible terrorist after he was surveilled by the government. He was found to be perfectly innocent, but his response was to make photos of unbelievably mundane details of his everyday life and sent thousands of them per week to the government because he thought they would be interested in his activities, he being a high-profile subject and all. It was called "100,000 Little Brothers" and all 100 thousand were arranged into this giant collage on a wall probably 30-40 feet tall. I thought this wasn't that great as a photo thing, but so much sarcasm that it was pretty cool. 

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The hardest train part was the very last one. Ganesh and I were told to take train S7 from platform 6. Ganesh also deduced from the map that the train might say something about Aberfelde which is the direction the train traveled. Well both of those pieces of information seem to be completely erroneous. And there was no mention of Aberfelde. There is no sign anywhere indicating anything. I'm sure being exhausted didn't help, there was probably a sign somewhere, but I couldn't find it. Walking—commuter and museum varieties; and standing—both waiting and train-leaning for the past seven hours was beginning to be absolutely holocaustic on my feet.

I finally asked a guy that looked like he worked there, "How do I get to Freidrickstraßa?" He responded by casually pointing at one of the trains that just pulled up to the platform. I pointed too and said, "that one?" and he just pointed again. No words were spoken, no sign confirmed, the train was going to leave. It was either trust or...stand there and wait some more looking stupid. I guess it wasn't as epic as it felt. So I got on the mystery train. Only until after the train pulled away from the platform did the little digital sign inside the train show "Aberfelde" and then I knew I was going the right direction.

After going to all these places and all the walking from the stations to the museums, which was sometimes quite a long distance, I was completely exhausted. While going up the stairs at the Photo museum, I started seeing stars. I knew I was cooked. I came back to the hotel room and collapsed onto the bed and didn't wake up for another three hours.


  1. Jewish Museum sounds cool. Must be really creative piece of work out there by some genius architects.


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