Exhibitions: After the aquarium accident: DDR Museum opens with a new concept

Matthias Kaminsky never expected that the ceiling of his workplace would come his way.

Exhibitions: After the aquarium accident: DDR Museum opens with a new concept

Matthias Kaminsky never expected that the ceiling of his workplace would come his way. On December 16 last year, there was a lot of water in the DDR Museum, through which numerous visitors usually walk. In the hotel next door, just a fire door and a few meters away, a 16 meter high aquarium had burst. A million liters of water were distributed in the hotel lobby, on the street - and also in the DDR Museum.

When creative director Matthias Kaminsky found out about the bursting of the aquarium on Friday morning, he was wet himself. "I was in the shower and the phone rang," he recalled three months later. "At that moment I thought: It's going to be a lot of work."

"We were just lucky"

The team immediately began setting up backup generators to dry the building. "We were just lucky that the blast wave didn't catch us by surprise like in other parts of the building." But the water was pushed in through the supply shafts, ran under the floor and lowered the ceiling.

The museum on the Spree has been closed since the day of the accident. Although not much happened to the exhibits thanks to the quick intervention, the salt water left its mark. "Floors, wallpaper, basically everything that hung on the walls and was on floors," says museum director Gordon von Godin. "And the plasterboard, the suspended ceilings, they are all affected. Of course, this also includes electrical cables, electrical distributors were affected. Everything had to be replaced."

Three months later, the DDR Museum is drilled and hammered. Workers run back and forth attaching power cables, paneling the ceiling and pushing wheelbarrows through the rooms. They have to be ready in just under two weeks, on April 1st - then the museum should reopen after a forced break of 15 weeks.

In the hotel next door, the clean-up work is also continuing. "The hotel lobby has now been completely cleared, and the removal of the acrylic elements for closer inspection is proceeding according to plan," said the building owner's spokesman. The first demolition work began this week in the affected part of the building, and gutting should take place for about three months from next week. "We're going into the shell construction, so to speak."

"Making the museum fit for the next 20 years"

The DDR Museum took the opportunity to redesign the museum right away. "The new concept is very clear: to make the museum fit for the next 20 years," says Kaminsky. Even people who would not have experienced the division of Europe and Germany themselves should be able to learn something about it in the museum. "They learned at most from the textbook that Germany was divided."

Here, on the other hand, visitors should be able to touch history: drive in a real Trabant or stroll through a GDR prefab apartment. But the system of injustice is also illuminated - including in a Stasi detention cell and an area for propaganda.

New additions include an original part of the Berlin Wall, which can now be viewed and touched in the middle of the museum. The German division should also be presented more intensively, said von Gordin.

"Carry all the damage yourself"

As much as the team is happy about the new concept, the past few weeks have not been easy. More than three months without visitors and income - the consequences of the corona pandemic and expensive renovation work are burdening the museum, which otherwise has more than half a million visitors a year. "Financially, this is of course a major loss for us, which we will then try to work up again in the next few years," says director of Gordin.

"We are a little disappointed with the insurance companies. The building insurance has not paid a cent to date. Our content insurance less than 10 percent of the total damage," says Managing Director Quirin Graf Adelmann. "That means we bear the damage completely ourselves. We have to advance the money, which is in the seven-figure range."

Nevertheless, the director and the managing director are now looking to the future. "The date is set, that's for sure. It's also certain that we'll finish," says von Gordin. "We open on April 1st and of course we look forward to every visitor".