Hidden in plain sight up three flights of stairs on one of the many lengths of quirky shops that Kreuzberg has to offer is the Werkbundarchiv – Museum der Dinge or the Museum of Things. Despite only covering one floor, the archive houses hundreds of objects logically presented in order to walk visitors through the history of German 20th and 21st century product culture.
If you don’t fancy elbowing your way through the DDR Museum but you still want to eye up that famous East German plastic then the Werkbundarchiv is for you. The beauty of this museum is that it caters for everyone, regardless of your knowledge of German history or product design. Hundreds of fascinating items are organised in such a visually satisfying way that even children will enjoy it (the collection of toys and Star Wars figurines is just awesome). Not to mention that admission is just 6 Euro (4 Euro for concession and free for under 17s!).
The permanent exhibition is separated thematically and physically into two sections. The first is organised down the centre of the room telling the story of the Deutsche Werkbund (DWB), a group of German artists, designers and manufacturers founded in 1907 that pushed for cultural utopia achieved through design. Each step of the story is told through items alongside several paragraphs – written in both German and English. Consistently the DWB pushed for modern design paired with functionalism and durability.
Photo credit: Zoë Noble for Museum Der Dinge
The second section is something of a Wunderkammern, a long floor to ceiling cabinet stretching down the length of the room filled with a vast array of colourful, weird, and wonderful objects of everyday life from the 1900’s. Organised into themes such as plastics, electrical and kitchenware you could certainly spend hours inspecting all the items. Some of my personal favourites were the bright pink collections of garish plastics.
Luckily for us on our visit the Werkbundarchiv were hosting a special exhibition on works of commercial graphic design in the DDR. Colourful, imaginative and at times quite naughty, this exhibition showed us a very different side to East Germany than that is typically conveyed. Through books, posters, advertisements, packaging and phonograph records we could see that the DDR was anything but grey. The talent of designers and artists of the time shone regardless of the many limitations they faced such as political control and resource shortages.
We often like to think of the Germans as functional and efficient -and they often are – but this museum shows us how that cliche was hard fought for by the DWB and how often is was resisted by consumers.
Looking at Germany’s turbulent political history through the lens of product culture is a refreshing and visually engaging angle that Berlin’s well established museums don’t always offer. The Werkbundarchiv is well worth a visit both for the story that it tells and the hundreds of beautiful (and sometimes kitschy) items on display.
By Sarah Redrup
Museum der Dinge, Oranienstraße 25 D-10999 Berlin
Open Sunday to Monday, 12pm – 7pm. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Admission: 6 Euro, Concessions 4 Euro, Under 17s Free.
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