For those still looking to get a grip on understanding the ever elusive German, two exhibitions going on right now go a ways in showing how they tick.
Saving – History of a German virtue
A whole exhibition on that most German of pastimes – saving – sounds about as thrilling as a trip to the Bürgeramt. But with its self-ironic title, perfect packaging and fussy curatorial concept (fittingly sponsored by Sparkasse!) this exhibition at the DHM should help any foreign Berliner get a little closer to understanding Germany’s love for thrift and its nagging efforts at imposing it upon others (e.g. the financial austerity it demands of the Eurozone). A copy of B.Z. tabloid emblazoned with a superhero eagle celebrating both Germany’s balanced budget and international economic dominance (the former being a condition for the latter) sets the tone. What follows is a critical history of the roots of German scrimping, from the late 18th century to today, through objects, texts and advertising (or propaganda). We’re reminded how savings institutions like the Sparkassen were conceived to help the needy help themselves. And the “virtuous” history continues in many sobering ways – like the Nazis’ cynical push to “save” for cars and vacations – branded as Kraft durch Freude (“Strength through Joy”) – money that would eventually be funnelled into war-machinery instead. Don’t get fooled by the jokey name – this is serious stuff, and if you learn anything from what you’ve seen, you’ll make sure to avoid the gift shop. Who would smash open one’s Sparschwein for a €25-book on Sparen?
Through Aug 26 | DHM, Mitte
Oh Yeah! Popmusik in Deutschland
If you think German pop music is relegated to the sugary Ohrwürmer of Helene Fischer or the insipid nursery school English of Scooter: you’re half right. Schlager is an undeniable part of German pop, but not all of it. Exhibition Oh Yeah! Pop Music in Germany at the Museum for Communication attempts to fill in the gap by presenting a 90-year overview of Deutschpop, -punk, -rap, and more, from 1925 through today. Visitors are even given a pair of sanitised headphones to plug in at various stations. The real tour begins after a barrage of music videos (Deichkind included), starting with the mention of the invention of the gramophone here in Germany. From there we get a taste of wild youth ‘cliques’ listening to “un-German” jazz and swing in the times of Hitler, the influence of American radio and Elvis on German youth, and the the suffocatingly soporific Heimat music of the 1950s, designed to calm the spirits of defeated and dispirited Germany after the war. Post-Beatles invasion, the exhibition becomes a little too brisk. Ton Steine Scherben, Einstürzende Neubauten and Rammstein are confined to one wall on “radical music”. East and West German punk are presented on the same footing, revolving around “fun punk” like Die Toten Hosen (sorry, Berlin trailblazers Malaria! and Die Tödliche Doris). Nena is squeezed in with Neue Deutsche Welle as if she was no more than a radio curiosity. German hip hop, too, gets less attention than it deserves, exploring Die Fantastischen Vier and not much more. For the pro, there’s not much to glean, but it may just be perfect for out-of-town friends with little-to-no knowledge of German music. While you’re there, take a chance to check out the woefully underappreciated permanent exhibition of the museum. Who knew the history of German post was more fascinating than Trio?
Through Sep 16 | Museum for Communication, Mitte