For over 40 years, Berlin has been at the forefront of the Cold War. Dissidents in East Germany planned their escape to the West in this city, where American and Soviet spies were plotting and officials on both sides of the Iron Curtain were conducting their political maneuvers.
It will now be a museum in Germany’s capital that aims to revive the history of the Cold War. It will be located at Unter den Linden 14, just a few hundred meters from the location of the Berlin Wall. It is the first of its kind in the world and its main purpose will be to provide the casual visitor with an interactive and entertaining overview without the need for pre-reading.
After passing the symbolic iron curtain that covers the front wall of the museum—perforated and featuring images of Cold War politicians from Harry S. Truman, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin to Helmut Kohl, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Ronald Reagan—the attendees are presented with a broad-screen view of history. to visit the exhibition.
In episodes devoted to espionage, the space race, the Vietnam War, and nuclear disarmament, among others, participants will be able to make their way through history through historical videos and dramatic reenactments of Cold War highlights.
Wearing virtual reality headsets, visitors will be transported to a divided Berlin decades back in time. Even those who visit the museum will be able to sync their smartphones with most of the exhibits to listen to original reports from witnesses of the era.
A museum for new generations
The Cold War Museum was created by its managing director Carsten Kollmeier and financial director Harald Braun, who are part of the team behind the popular German Spy Museum in Berlin. It was designed specifically to appeal to the younger crowd who have little or no memory of the Cold War.
“My hope is that we can reach more than the typical elderly museum visitor and have a truly cross-generational appeal,” says Kollmeier.
Despite all this flashy technology, there’s still plenty for history buffs and old-school museum lovers. Bernd Stöver, professor of international history at Potsdam University and author of several books on the Cold War, led the advisory committee that helped design the museum, making sure that everything in the exhibit was based on the latest historical research.
Among the items on display is a Soviet-era S75 rocket (the ominous missile suspended above the entrance) that was used to shoot down American pilot and CIA spy Garry Powers in 1960. The incident triggered an international incident in those years.
There is one of the telex machines that provided a direct link between Moscow and Washington during the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as the Cold War era space suits worn by both NASA astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts.
Echoes of the current war in Ukraine
Russia’s war against Ukraine, which many see as an act of re-enacting the Cold War, is not included in this exhibition. The museum was designed long before the February 24 invasion, but current events in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Mariupol give a new urgency to the history on display.
Russian architect Sergei Tchoban, who designed the Cold War Museum, draws attention to the fact that the iron curtain at the entrance of the museum was made by a Ukrainian graphic artist.
From the museum’s blood-red floor to a life-size nuclear bomb model hanging next to the cloakroom, various design elements evoke clear and present dangers. As Tchoban points out: “A story that should never be repeated.”
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