There were many yawns, and perhaps a bleary eye or two, as we gathered in the lobby Saturday for one last day of exploring Berlin. A good number of our students had returned just a few hours earlier after having been shown the city’s nightlife by our gracious hosts from DEKRA Houschule, but all were safe. The German students asked some of ours why they were going home so “early” – it seems some clubs in Berlin don’t close until 9 a.m.
Our students were back well before that since we had a late-morning appointment at the German Technological Museum. Just as with last year’s class, the facility was a pleasant surprise for many students. For starters, it’s not often you go to a museum with an Cold War-era American transport plane on the roof. In a bit of engineering genius, the plane not only serves as a landmark but also was designed as a counterweight that supports part of the roof. Inside, our tour guides focused on the communications section, including an early computer prototype from the 1930s, a 1950s television studio setup, and the first radio transmitter for RIAS, which as students learned the previous day at Deutsche Welle, stood for “Radio In the American Sector,” broadcasting pro-U.S. information to the city during the Cold War. Students then had some free time to explore the massive museum, which has trains, old breweries, boats, and countless other treasures.
We then made a short subway ride to Potsdamer Plotz where we broke for lunch before gathering again for a tour of the German film museum. One enters the exhibit on a white walkway surrounded by mirrors and large screens showing clips from classic German films, a stunning entrance. Once inside, we watch early film shorts, discuss the painstaking process of hand-coloring frames in the era before color film, and discuss the influence of Marlene Dietrich, whose presence dominates the center of the museum.
Just past the Dietrich display is a single room housing a model of Olympic Stadium and honoring the documentary film “Olympia” by Leni Riefenstahl. For many, Riefenstahl is better known for the Nazi propaganda film “Triumph of the Will,” which received no mention in the museum’s displays. As we discussed in the fall class, her work is difficult to deal with. Her films helped fuel the Nazi regime, but she developed revolutionary filming techniques which are still used to this day. As our guide tells us, when the museum was designed, Riefenstahl resented so much space going to Dietrich and so little going to her. It seems that the museum’s founders had a difficult time deciding how to remember the past as well.
A few of our students were planning to go back Saturday night to the gleaming Sony Center, which houses the museum, and see an English-language movie at the cineplex. Others planned to stay close to the hotel after a long night, a full day of touring, and a train ride to Prague on the horizon for Sunday. We added an extra day to Berlin this year, and that day quickly evaporated.