Most of us Europeans have been fortunate enough to be born in times of peace, so that the only times when we seriously think of war and its consequences are during documentaries on this topic on Discovery or other TV channels or while listening to our grandparents’ stories from the period of the Second World War. Of course, we hear of wars taking place nowadays in different parts of the world, but generally these are in far away places we have never visited or have very limited knowledge about.
“War is a crime against humanity. We therefore are determined not to support any kind of war and to strive for the removal of all causes of war.”
The museum is housed on the ground floor of an apartment building in the Mitte district. Although very small – it encompasses four rooms – the exhibits chosen are eloquent in conveying a powerful message for peace and have a significant impact on its visitors, regardless of their opinions. The original idea for the museum belonged to Ernst Friedrich who founded it in 1925 in order to draw attention to the horrors of the First World War:
“Germany is a republic – I thought.
Germany wants peace – I thought.
There should be a Peace Museum in a peaceful republic, I thought.
But as the pacifistic republic did not have enough money for such a work of peace (an armoured cruiser being more important and more expensive), the silly idea came to my mind, to open an ‘Anti-War Museum’: in the centre of Germany, in the heart of Prussia, in the midst of Berlin (five minutes away from the police headquarters).”
Unfortunately, in 1933 after the National Socialists took over, the founder was arrested and the museum is transformed into a meeting place for the SA as well as a torture chamber. The museum’s history, from its beginning until its reopening in 1985, is told through the help of a short documentary that is frequently showed in the main room, which also features photographs, objects and documents from the First and Second World Wars. Besides normal photographs, there are also two apparatuses that show incredible 3D photos, called stereophotographs, from the period of World War I. In the same room a large map of the world points out the countries where there are currently armed conflicts or those that supply armed forces or money into the war areas.
A set of pictures of men brutally wounded and disfigured in the First World War hung on the walls remind the people of the terrible consequences of any type of armed conflict. When focusing on individual stories these effects can be more easily comprehended. One of the exhibits in the Peace Gallery, which change periodically, presented the story of a family whose majority of its members were killed during the war. Upon reading this, one of the visitors, who was part of a larger group, also shared his own family’s story: all of his father’s five brothers had fought in the Wehrmacht. Unlike the family mentioned in the exhibit, his was unbelievably lucky to have all survived the war.
Beneath the museum there is an air-raid shelter used in the Second World War that can also be viewed and experienced through the use of bomb recordings. Most of the objects found in the shelter (army beds, doors, caskets) are taken from the same period.
Because the museum functions as a non-profit organization, it is free of charge. This means that any donation, no matter how small, can ensure that the museum stays open. The great thing us that you will benefit of a guided tour of the exhibits regardless whether you are part of a group or arrive on your own. The museum’s staff, composed of volunteers, is very friendly and is usually bilingual. They will assist you whenever you need more information and if you are open, you most probably end up having a chat with them during or after your visit.
This may not the most conventional or pleasurable way to spend your time in Berlin, but if you choose to do so, you will not regret it: the visit is enriching on so many levels. While I considered war as being one of the worst things that could happen on this planet, the exhibition at the Anti-WarMuseum in Berlin has reinstated and completely justified this belief and made me see no effort as too great in the struggle for peace.
Address: Brüsseler Str. 21, 13353 Berlin
Schedule: everyday (Sundays and on holidays included) between 16 – 20