The Allied Museum

By Carolyn Blume

There are any num­ber of fea­ture films and doc­u­men­taries about the Cold War, some of which have been shown in numer­ous movie the­aters over the decades. But there is like­ly only one muse­um about the Cold War that is housed in a repur­posed movie the­ater: the Allied Muse­um in Berlin’s Dahlem district.

The Allied Muse­um, locat­ed near the U.S. Embassy on Clay­allee, in the heart of the for­mer Amer­i­can forces sec­tor, tells the con­tem­po­rary his­to­ry of “how Berlin became what it is today.” The focus is on the peri­od 1945 (the Ger­man sur­ren­der) to 1994, which marks the with­draw­al of Amer­i­can troops from the reuni­fied cap­i­tal. Housed since 1998 in the his­toric Out­post movie the­ater along with sev­er­al ancil­lary struc­tures, the Muse­um con­veys much of the dra­ma of these decades in a chrono­log­i­cal exhib­it cov­er­ing the divid­ed city’s polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic, social, and cul­tur­al devel­op­ment. Giv­en the com­plex­i­ty of the era, each of these areas are touched on rel­a­tive­ly briefly with an empha­sis on the coor­di­nat­ed efforts of West­ern Allies and the events of the Berlin Blockade.

The exhib­it begins the sto­ry of post-WWII Berlin in the foy­er, doc­u­ment­ed in Ger­man, Eng­lish, French, and Russ­ian news­pa­pers pro­claim­ing the end of armed con­flict. The mixed reac­tions of Berlin­ers – express­ing relief, resent­ment, and fears for the future – are super­im­posed on images tak­en as troops entered the city.

Enter­ing the main exhi­bi­tion space – the for­mer view­ing room – vis­i­tors are con­front­ed not just with a metic­u­lous doc­u­men­ta­tion of the ris­ing ten­sions in the imme­di­ate post-war years, but also with the oppor­tu­ni­ty to engage with some of the more chal­leng­ing dilem­mas of the era. Inter­ac­tive screens offer mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives of Berlin­ers whose opin­ions about the mil­i­tary pres­ence (and lat­er, mil­i­tary with­draw­al) are reflect­ed in var­i­ous col­ors and lan­guages in a series of fad­ing and re-appear­ing texts in con­nec­tion with his­toric images. Vis­i­tors are encour­aged to weigh in on the process of denaz­i­fi­ca­tion, writ­ing on a post­card how they would gauge its success.

From there, a mix­ture of news­pa­per and mag­a­zine arti­cles, per­son­al sou­venirs, and audio-visu­al sequences describe ear­ly recon­struc­tive efforts (the Euro­pean Recov­ery Plan) and efforts to pro­mote democ­ra­cy and friend­ship among the West­ern Allies and the Ger­man cit­i­zen­ry through radio, edu­ca­tion, and good­will ini­tia­tives. Memen­tos and sou­venirs that doc­u­ment the bud­ding ties between Amer­i­can sol­diers and Ger­man cit­i­zens are in the mid­dle aisle, flanked by infor­ma­tion about the Allied admin­is­tra­tion of the city on one side and mil­i­tary regalia, includ­ing an actu­al Willys MB jeep that looks like it is straight out of a movie prop store­room, on the other.

Vis­i­tors access the for­mer stage via two arched walk­ways that nar­rate attempts to cre­ate nor­mal­cy amid the cri­sis that reached its cli­max in the Berlin Block­ade. A time­line details events from 1945 to 1949; the stage itself is giv­en over to doc­u­ments, images, videos, and cor­re­spon­dence detail­ing the com­plex­i­ty and hero­ism of the Block­ade itself. What was orig­i­nal­ly the orches­tra pit is now filled with sacks rep­re­sent­ing a small por­tion of the coal that was trans­port­ed dur­ing this mas­sive under­tak­ing that saw a total of 1.58 mil­lion tons of coal flown into the besieged West­ern sectors.

The exhib­it con­tin­ues in the Nichol­son Library, which is on the far side of a Hast­ings TG503 raisin bomber that vis­i­tors can board on Sun­days in the sum­mer. There is also a GDR-era guard tow­er, a Check­point Char­lie bor­der cross­ing build­ing, and a French mil­i­tary din­ing car on the premis­es, the lat­ter two of which can also be toured.

The empha­sis in the Nichol­son Library is on the era of the Wall and the ten­u­ous peace of these years. A piece of the Berlin Wall is de rigueur. Addi­tion­al­ly, there are rem­nants of the Allied Forces pres­ence in a vari­ety of forms: A British phone booth, the orig­i­nal Check­point Char­lie guard­house, and a restored sec­tion of the infa­mous 1953 spy tun­nel join news­pa­pers, license plates, and a repli­ca of the U.S. Con­sulate made out of sugar.

Spe­cial exhibits share this space with a small book­shop and a seat­ing area. Cur­rent­ly, a pho­tog­ra­phy instal­la­tion doc­u­ments the life of Armed Forces’ depen­dents in Germany’s “Lit­tle Amer­i­ca,” which played out in the streets next to the cur­rent Muse­um. In addi­tion to tours of the exhibit(s) and the out­build­ings, the Muse­um offers spe­cial events and (most­ly Ger­man-lan­guage) tours both of the Muse­um itself and Cold War Berlin.

The muse­um is phys­i­cal­ly acces­si­ble, and writ­ten infor­ma­tion is pro­vid­ed in French, Ger­man, and Eng­lish. Unlike the movies that used to be shown there, admis­sion is free. Plans are under­way for the Muse­um to move to the old Tem­pel­hof Air­port in 2021.

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Car­olyn Blume is a researcher and lec­tur­er at Leuphana Uni­ver­si­ty Lüneb­urg. Her cur­rent research focus­es on pre-ser­vice teacher edu­ca­tion in the areas of both inclu­sive edu­ca­tion and dig­i­tal­ly-enact­ed for­eign lan­guage learn­ing and teach­ing. In the Insti­tute of Eng­lish Stud­ies, she teach­es cours­es in sec­ond lan­guage acqui­si­tion, game-based lan­guage learn­ing, and the edu­ca­tion of learn­ers in het­ero­ge­neous and inclu­sive set­tings. A native New York­er, Dr. Blume worked as an Eng­lish and his­to­ry school teacher and admin­is­tra­tor in the U.S. before becom­ing a teacher in Ger­many in 2008. In addi­tion to co-edit­ing the recent con­fer­ence pro­ceed­ings, Tagungs­doku­men­ta­tion 2018 – Per­spek­tiv­en inklu­siv­en Englis­chunter­richts: Gemein­sam lehren und ler­nen, Dr. Blume con­ducts work­shops for teach­ers inter­est­ed in meet­ing stu­dents’ learn­ing needs with the sup­port of dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies. She can (fre­quent­ly) be found on twitter@CaroBlume.