Spending a few days in Berlin? Want to know where to find out how life in East Berlin really was? Then check out these musums:
1. Everyday life in the GDR (Alltag in der DDR)
What: One of my favourite museums, a gentle yet not romanticised introduction into what life in the GDR looked like. A surprisingly large collection, considering how compact the museum is.
Where: The old Brewery, Knaackstraße 97, Prenzlauer Berg, U2, M10 Eberswalder Str.,
When: Tuesday – Sunday 10-18h. Thursdays 10-20h.
How Much: free.
Accessibility: Wheelchair accessible (ramps and lifts) wheelchair entrance to left of main entrance. Disabled toilet. Induction loop available for tours. The brewery area is cobbled (ca 100m to nearest smooth pavement), audio guide.
Contact: www.hdg.de/museum-in-der-kulturbrauerei/ +49 (0)30 46 77 77 9 11
2. The Palace of Tears (Tränenpalast)
What: My other favourite museum in Berlin, based in the old transit hall of Friedrichstraße Station, where tourists and the few GDR citizens allowed (or forced) to leave would say their last goodbyes to friends and relatives. The architecture is light and airy, ironic considering its original purpose. The exhibition does an exceptional job at giving visitors a taste of the repressive claustrophobia that dominated the building until the end of 1989.
Where: Right next to Friedrichstraße Station S-Bahn, U6, on the north side of the station, on the banks of the river Spree.
When: Tuesday – Friday 9-19h, weekends, 10-18h
How Much: free.
Accessibility: Wheelchair entrance at back. Disabled toilet. Induction loop available for tours
Contact: https://www.hdg.de/traenenpalast/ +49 (0)30 46 77 77 9 11
3. Museum of Youth Resistance
What: Museum documenting resistance to oppression in the GDR and during National-Socialism. Fittingly, it’s in a church (the Protestant Church was practically the only public space available to youth counter-cultures in GDR times), and there’s usually an ageing punk on hand to give you first hand insights.
Where: Rigaer Str. 10, Friedrichshain. U5 Frankfurter Tor or tram 21 or M10, Bersarin Pl.
When: Monday-Friday 9-18h
How Much: Free
Accessibility: Two steps up. Ramp available, ring the doorbell.
Contact: https://widerstandsmuseum.de/en/ +49 (0)30 41 72 86 77
4. Museumswohnung Hellersdorf
What: Forget the Stasi, the KGB and exit visas – what was life in the GDR really like? Visit a flat in a concrete slab built block of flats in Hellersdorf, fitted out like it was still 1986.
Where: Hellersdorfer Straße 179, Hellersdorf. U5 Cottbusser Platz.
When: Sunday 14-16h
How Much: Free
Accessibility: 10 steps up.
Contact: https://www.stadtundland.de/Service/Museumswohnung.php +49 (0)151 16114447
5. Lindenstraße Stasi Museum, Potsdam
What: Remand prison in the centre of Potsdam, last used by the Stasi. Smaller and more intimate than the Hohenschönhausen Stasi prison museum in Berlin (see below), this museum is well travelling to Potsdam to see.
Where: Lindenstraße 54, 14467 Potsdam. S-Bahn or Train to Potsdam Hbf, then tram 91 to Dortustr. or tram 96 to Platz der Einheit. Potsdam is in the Berlin local transport C zone, so an ABC ticket will get you there.
When: Tuesday-Sunday 10-18h
How Much: 2€, more for a tour (in German).
Accessibility: Poor. Only the ground floor and the prison yard are accessible by wheelchair, which leaves out the cell block. Disabled toilet available.
Contact: https://www.gedenkstaette-lindenstrasse.de/ +49 (0)331 – 289 61 12
6. KGB Prison, Potsdam
What: A residential building in what was, during GDR times, a Soviet military enclave in Potsdam. First used to intern German youths suspected of being members of the Werwolf movement plotting against the new Soviet masters, then mainly used to intern Soviet soldiers suspected of fraternisation or desertion. Conditions were harsher even than in the Stasi prisons, it is assumed that most detainees died in Gulags or were executed. Grim.
Where: Leistikowstraße 1, 14469 Potsdam. S-Bahn or train to Potsdam Hbf, tram 96 to Platz der Einheit then bus 603 to Persiusstr. Potsdam is in the Berlin local transport C zone, so an ABC ticket will get you there.
When: Tuesday-Sunday: 14-18h
How Much: Free
Accessibility: Poor. Only the ground floor is accessible by wheelchair, which leaves out some of the exhibitions and the cells which are upstairs.
7. Berlin Wall Memorial
What: An open air museum to the Berlin Wall, including a reconstructed stretch which gives visitors a good idea of what it must have been like to live in the shadow of the concrete border. There’s also a visitor centre with more information, but I doubt many people have the energy to visit this after they’ve covered the mile long stretch of the outdoor exhibits (including the cellars of buildings that used to run along Bernauer Str but were demolished to make way for the Wall)
Where: Bernauer Straße, Mitte. S1, S2, M10 Nordbahnhof; U8, M10 Bernauer Str.
When: Outdoor exhibits always accessible
How Much: free. Guided tours on Sundays at 15h: 3€.
Accessibility: Wheelchair accessible, some concrete slab walkways but not too rough.
Contact: https://www.berliner-mauer-gedenkstaette.de/en/ +49 (0)30 213085-166
8. Stasi Museum at the Stasi HQ (Berlin Centre)
What: The central headquarters from which most of the Stasi departments directed operations in the GDR and other countries. Most visitors enjoy seeing General Mielke’s private suite, but few other insights are on offer – the most impressive thing about the museum is the sheer scale of the complex in which it is set. Other buildings are used by the Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Files, the Robert-Havemann-Gesellschaft (which looks after the archive of the opposition and has an open-air exhibition outside the Stasi Museum) the Job Centre and various doctors and dentists – which still leaves quite a few buildings empty.
Where: Ruschestraße 103, Haus 1, 10365 Berlin. U5 Magdalenenstr.
When: Monday-Friday: 10-18h, weekends and bank holidays: 11-18h
How Much: EUR 8.
9. The Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Stasi Remand Prison
What: Political prisoners were held by the Stasi for months, sometimes even years, while they were questioned and cases against them were prepared. An essential instrument of repression in the GDR, this remand prison still shocks thirty years later.
Where: Genslerstr. 66, Hohenschönhausen. Tram M5 Freienwalder Str.
When: Entrance by guided tour only, check website for current times (they seem to change a lot)
How Much: 6€
Accessibility: Poor, lots of stairs. However the very well stocked bookshop and the permanent exhibition have step-free access.
10. Documentation Centre Everyday Life GDR, Eisenhüttenstadt
What: This one is a bit of a way out from Berlin, but well worth a visit. Based in the new town of Eisenhüttenstadt (originally called Stalinstadt), the museum began in 1993 as a collection of the material culture of the GDR but soon expanded to include historical research and a revamped museum.
Where: Dokumentationszentrum Alltagskultur der DDR, Erich-Weinert-Allee 3, 15890 Eisenhüttenstadt. Train RE1 to Eisenhüttenstadt (hourly) then any bus to Rathaus
When: Tuesday-Sunday, winter: 11-17h; summer 10-18h
How Much: 4€
Accessibility: Wheelchair accessible (ramps and lifts), disabled toilet.
Contact: https://www.alltagskultur-ddr.de/en/ +49 (0)3364 417355
Note regarding accessibility: I’ve concentrated on providing information regarding wheelchair access, I’m aware that there are many other access issues that can and need to be addressed, but frankly, German museums aren’t very good at this. I’ve contacted each museum on this list to check current accessibility provision and have noted any extra information in the text .