The freedom of the fenced-in island

In the retrospective “West:Berlin – An Island Searching for Mainland”, the Stadtmuseum traces West Berlin’s approach to life between 1945 and 1989.

Student protests, the Charlottenburg in-crowd, Harald Juhnke and Knautschke the hippo are all part of the collective memory of West Berliners. On the occasion of the 25-year anniversary of the fall of the Wall, the Stadtmuseum der Geschichte is hosting an exhibition to mark the division of the city that is now the capital of Germany. The exhibition in the Ephraim Palais includes posters, private photos, works by West Berlin artists and even a stuffed panda, as well as more bizarre pieces like the Amphicar, a car that could travel over both water and land, produced in 1961 in Berlin-Wittenau, or a bra manufactured for the potential emergency situation of a further blockade. The objects are arranged thematically rather than chronologically, across politics, economy, society and culture. “We wanted to communicate West Berlin’s approach to life and allow the visitors to stroll through the exhibition like a flâneur”, explains Thomas Beutelschmidt, the co-curator of the exhibition along with Julia Novak.

West Berlin between 1945 and 1989 is brought to life by over 500 pieces from everyday life and cultural history, as well as by media installations. The curators aim to provide an overview of the entire ‘half-city’ of West Berlin rather than focussing on thematic excerpts such as the Allies, the ‘economic miracle’ years or the squatter scene. These events are all part of a bigger picture. That this is no easy task is not lost on Thomas Beutelschmidt, who moved to the western part of the city in 1974: “We want to work through the many particularities and the heterogeneity of West Berlin without mythologizing the city any more than it already is.”

A visitor strolling through history at the exhibition will continuously encounter one word in particular: Freedom. As the central issue of the fenced-in city, it is the leitmotiv of the exhibition. It became part of the names of the Freie Universität Berlin (Free University Berlin) and Senders Freies Berlin (Radio Free Berlin) as a defiant declaration to the East, and is also part of the RIAS (‘Rundfunk im amerikanischen Sektor’; ‘Broadcasting in the American Sector’) radio station, which considered itself the “free voice of the free world”. The term encapsulates the city’s democratic self-perception, but also the possibilities for individual development and self-realisation that West Berlin uniquely provided then and still does today as a reunified city.

“All in all,” says Thomas Beutelschmidt as he summarises the idea behind the exhibition, “we want our multi-perspective ‘tour d'horizon’ to invite visitors from near and far, long-time residents and newcomers, westerners and easterners, to make up their own mind and to embark on a search for traces of the essence of West Berlin.“

The exhibition runs until 28.06.2015 in the Ephraim-Palais, Poststraße 16, 10178 Berlin-Mitte. Opening hours: Tue, Thurs – Sat: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. | Wed: 12 p.m. – 8 p.m. Entry:  € 7 / disc. € 5 incl. booklet, free entry under 18 years, free entry every first Wednesday of the month (booklet € 3).

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