Berlin has been snowbombed. After truckloads of salt and grit and permafrost, it’s at last starting to thaw leaving rubble of stubborn ice littering the streets, mounds of gravel and the debris of New Year’s spent fireworks.
I can’t tell you how relieved I am to see it melting away. I was beginning to get cabin fever - particularly when the Berliner Rathaus clock froze in time (its 1950s East German Bakerlite switches gave up in the subzero temperatures apparently) - and in desperation I took refuge in hemp.
No, not literally. I made a short visit to my neighbourhood Hemp museum.
It’s an odd place. I learnt that hemp is the material of the future, that the German artist Philipp Veit’s painting Germania shows Germany's national symbol clutching a marijuana plant and that you can buy cannabis perfume for nine euros. Just don’t wear it through airport security. My hemp trip got me thinking about your museums.
I’m told there are more than 150 of them in Berlin. As well as Hemp, there's Das Museum der Unerhörten Dinge in Crellestraße 5-6 and the Currywurst Museum on Schützenstraße 70, which, as a sausage lover, I am particularly keen to visit very soon. We don’t have one for Fish'N'Chips, as far as I’m aware, but there’s a jolly good tea museum in London if you’re ever in the area.
Despite your wealth of museums, though, I have to say I’m not an enthusiast. It costs 10 Euro for the Neues Museum, 5 Euro for the Museum für Naturkunde, and 8 Euro for your Neue Nationalgalerie.
In the UK all their equivalents are free. Free for everyone. Including you.
When I used to work next door to the British Museum the free entrance encouraged me to just pop in for 20 mins in my lunch hour. I learnt about Greek vases, Islamic ceramics and Mummys. The Tate Modern with its 20th century art is so wonderfully inclusive - you see kids interacting and marvelling at the art with parents who probably wouldn’t want to take the risk of shelling out cash if they had to pay to enter.
Museums are churches of knowledge. They should be open, non-exclusive, and embrace the people, rich and poor, young and old. They should inspire and educate, not make a profit. If people don’t have to pay to get in, they will visit and the benefits are immeasurable.
You can’t put a price on culture. My government might have done some pretty stupid things like wage a couple of wars, but one of its best achievements, besides the minimum wage (another area where you’re lagging behind), was to make all the major museums open to everyone.
Why don’t you put pressure on your politicians to do the same? The museums could recoup some of their costs by improving the shops and cafes - which are woefully backwards in comparison to their London equivalents, shabby, rude and understocked and with little chance of a good cup of inspiring coffee.
Lastly, and I don’t want to appear too penny pinching by saying this, but I do feel a little sore at the injustice that you guys can visit many of our museums in London for free, while we Brits have to dig deep in our pockets to pay for the privilege to enter yours.
So while you write some letters to Angela and Guido to change the cultural system, how about a gesture towards Anglo-German relations and let anyone showing a British passport in to your museums for free?