The name of this museum gives very little away. Usually museums are very literal beings, usually you know what you’re going to get with a Natural History Museum or even a Marzipan Museum. I realise there are some exceptions to this general rule and this and the Workshop for the Blind Museum (thank you google translate) is one of them.
If you have been following my Museum Adventures in Berlin you might have noticed there’s a fairly big topic missing. I’ve touched upon it briefly with Marlene Dietrich in the Film Museum but now is the time to look at it in a bit more detail.
I could have gone to Berlin’s Jewish Museum, but I thought that might be a bit overwhelming (and also, I need to leave a few museums for a return visit!). To be honest, I’ve found that the smaller museums are usually a bit better at telling the bigger stories. The best of them are able to encapsulate the bigger themes within a much more contained narrative. So, with this in mind we set off to discover the stories at the Museum Blindenwerkstatt Otto Weidt.
Described by our guidebook as “Berlin’s Oskar Schindler” who you might know as being famous for his infamous List, Otto Weidt worked hard to protect his workers; some blind, some deaf, all Jewish from the Nazis. Otto himself wasn’t Jewish, but like Marlene Dietrich he disliked the Nazis and their policies.
Some of the museum space is dedicated to recreating the workshop aspect of the space’s history. I found this helped to place everything in a context: this is the story of a small group of people, but also part of the larger story of the Jewish community and what happened to them under the Nazis.
Granted, it isn’t the most cheerful of workplaces, but I’m sure it was nice in its time, but that wasn’t really point. I’m not sure what the view out the window would have been back then, but now there’s some funky artwork in the courtyard.
At this point, you’re probably wondering, what on earth were they making? Patience, dear Readers. Otto’s workforce made brushes and brooms. This made them, somewhat ironically, to be deemed “essential to the war effort.”
Although the work they were doing was “essential to the war effort” the people, according to the Nazi government, were expendable. This didn’t stop Otto from helping them. Naturally, he had to work under cover, using coded messages. Can you work out what was being asked of him here?
“Kartoffel- grosshendel” translates as “Potato Wholesaler”- Otto was being asked to provide potatoes for someone in need. This, though, isn’t even the best postal-service-related-story in the museum. There is one that beats it hands down. One of his employees – according to the guidebook it was Otto’s girlfriend, but the museum said he was happily married- was being transported to a concentration camp. She had to get a message to him, so wrote one on some paper, addressed it to him, and threw it out of the train window! Miraculously, it reached Otto in time and he was able to help. Incredible.
Behind the Wardrobe
This last story sounds like it comes from the pages of Anne Frank’s diary (incidentally there is an Anne Frank exhibition just opposite the Otto Weidt Museum), but I’ll share it anyway. One of the families Otto employed was in dire need of help, so he found some space at the back of the workshop to hide the family. To disguise the entrance, a wardrobe was placed in front of the door. I’m not sure if the original wardrobe was the same colour as the wall, as above, but being able to peer behind it was a powerful experience.
The Museum Blindenwerkstatt Otto Weidt is one of the few free museums in Berlin, go and explore it if you can.