Discovering how Berliners used to live in the past: 5 house museums in Berlin

Have you ever wondered how people used to live in Berlin in the past? To satisfy your curiosity, we selected five house museums where you can travel back in time and discover different Berliner living conditions. This list features restored homes that span from the early 18th century down to the last days of the German Democratic Republic era!

Knoblauchhaus Museum:

Located in Nikolaiviertel, the historical Berlin neighborhood located by Alexanderplatz, Knoblauchhaus was once the residence of the wealthy Knoblauch family and it is one of the few remaining 19th century townhouses.

 

The museum is dedicated to the Biedermeier era in Berlin and showcases the domestic life of the city’s wealthy bourgeoisie in the first half of the 1800s through original, well-preserved furniture and everyday objects, making the visit an authentic experience: it’s the perfect setting to play a game of live Clue with children!

For over 170 years, three generations of the Knoblauch family of merchants used the house as their home and business center, hosting family meetings and other social events, when guests like architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel and philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt came for the soirées.

The building was completely renovated on the occasion of Berlin’s 750th anniversary and opened as a museum in 1989. In addition to the reconstructed home decor, done in late Baroque style, the museum also provides information about other aspects of the architecture, culture, economy and social life of the Biedermeier era.

Admission is free and voluntary donations are welcome.

Gründerzeitmuseum at Gutshaus Mahlsdorf:

On the outskirts of the former East Berlin, history buffs can visit an impressive monument to the Gründerzeit era, the economic boom in the mid-1800s, fueled by the industrial expansion of 19th century Germany.

The manor located in the Mahlsdorf neighborhood is over 200 years-old and it houses one of the most impressive collections from the Gründerzeit in Berlin. The assemblage was compiled by famed transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf (herself a museum conservator) and it helps us understand the origins of Germany’s fascination with machines.

There is a spectacular collection of music automatons, music boxes, phonographs and gramophones, including early self-playing pianolas and precursors to the jukebox created during the prosperous Gründerzeit period.

The museum has a very special atmosphere due to Charlotte von Mahlsdorf’s devotion, inherited by the current personnel, and it also displays pieces of industrially manufactured furniture, appliances, utensils and other everyday items.

And you’re in for a totally unusual ambience in the basement: the last remaining Berlin pub from the Scheunenviertel quarter in Mitte, the area between Hackescher Markt and Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz. Then known as “Mulackritze,” it was salvaged by Charlotte von Mahlsdorf before the building was demolished in the 1960s and its interior decorations, including advertisements and prohibition signs, are showcased in the museum’s cellar.

Open Wednesdays and Sundays, the Gründerzeitmuseum can only be visited on guided tours which last approximately 90 minutes and are included in the price of the ticket.

Museum Pankow/Heynstraße:

In the Pankow neighborhood, you can get some insight on how the wealthy lived around the year 1900. The chair manufacturer Fritz Heyn, for whom the street is named, was one of the first millionaires to move to the north of Berlin.

The Heyn family lived in the eight-room apartment on the first floor, the so-called “bel étage”, in a Wilhelminian-era three-story building. Now, over 120 years later, you can visit the apartment and see it virtually intact.

The apartment’s original divisions, the lush adornments on the ceilings and walls and the furniture have been preserved thanks to Heyn’s daughters, who lived in the residence until their deaths in the 1970s. Other parts of the building, like the front and back garden and the entrance hall, can also be visited.

The permanent exhibition showcases the interiors of the main room, two other small rooms, the bathroom with tiled walls and embedded bathtub, the kitchen and the tiny, maid’s chamber. There  is also plenty of information on the history of the building, its inhabitants and other aspects of the bourgeois lifestyle in the early 1900s.

Admission is free, including a personal guided tour through the flat.

Museumswohnung Zimmermeister Brunzel baut ein Mietshaus:

In contrast to the affluence displayed at the Museum Pankow, this very small museum shows visitors an apartment in the front building of a tenement house in Prenzlauer Berg, a former working class neighborhood.

The flat’s furnishings reflect the living conditions of a proletarian family around 1900, consisting of a sitting room, bedroom, kitchen and a minuscule bathroom. The interiors are richly furnished with objects that people used at that time.

Visitors are treated to lots of information – in German – about the residential area around Helmholtzplatz, its urban development and working conditions in northeastern Berlin in the early 20th century.

If you’d like to visit, be persistent and come back another day if the museum happens to be closed. We only managed to finally get in on our third attempt!

Admission costs 3 euros and they will – graciously – ask you to make a donation if you want to take pictures of its interiors.

Museumswohnung WBS 70 (GDR Apartment Museum):

This museum is for anyone fond of Ostalgie, nostalgia for life back in the East German era, and it showcases a slice of daily life in the former socialist Berlin.

In the eastern neighborhood of Hellersdorf, the apartment museum is located on the ground floor of a Plattenbau building, a typical socialist structure comprised of prefabricated concrete slabs. The WBS 70 stands for Wohnungsbauserie (housing construction system, 70th series), a type of dwelling built in the German Democratic Republic. Employing prefabricated materials, each apartment took only 18 hours to be assembled!

Completed in 1986, the three-room, 60-square-meter flat was furnished with original household items manufactured in the GDR. The apartment is finely decorated and looks like a “luxury version” of a mid-1980’s standard tenement, especially if we recall that East Germany was on the verge of collapse… This is definitely a must for aficionados of East German memorabilia!

Back then, a month’s rent cost about 10% of a worker’s average net income. But home appliances, like the color TV or the fridge, could easily total several times the monthly income of 969 marks. To get by living in such conditions, a family had to stick to one or two children. And stay very patient on the waiting list for years!

The apartment has been restored to its original state, including the omnipresent floral wallpaper: the doors are made of cardboard and covered with wood, the rugs came from Mongolia and the shelves are stacked with books of Soviet literature, toys and other small objects.

Right in front of it, you can also visit an apartment of the same size that was completely renovated and draw your own conclusions: might it one day become a kitschy example of early 2000s taste of living? Our guess is no…

The museum is only open on Sundays from 2 to 4 PM and admission is free.

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