The Anti-“Must-See”: Littler, weirder Museums in Berlin

letters are cool!
letters are cool!

“Must-sees” are dumb and there is no such thing. While sometimes I’ll check-out a “must-see,” I generally prefer finding spots and sights that are actually interesting to me aside from culturally codified check-list items. That means sometimes it takes me awhile to plan where I want to go. Before I go anywhere I spend a lot of time researching sights. I start with regular guidebooks, then move to sites like tripadvisor (with a healthy dose of skepticism), then I start looking for local blogs. When I went to Berlin, I wanted to find places to go and things to see that weren’t at the top of the tripadvisor list, and were genuinely fascinating to me. That’s how I ended up at the Buchstaben Museum (a museum of neon signs and typography, which at the time was in a strange mall-like space and now seems to have moved in search of a permanent exhibition spot) and the Musical Instruments Museum. Neither of these places are in the top-120 of things to do in Berlin on tripadvisor, but both provided some of the more pleasant times I spent in Berlin Museums.


In both cases I came across these spots through local Berlin bloggers. Every city (heck, maybe even every town) has local writers talking about things to do in that city. Yes it takes time to search them out and yes it takes time to find one that might mirror your interests (I probably looked at about 20 Berlin bloggers’ sites, bookmarking about 5 of them and taking advice from 2), but it was well worth it because my trip to Berlin would’ve been much poorer had I not stopped into these two eclectic spaces.

also pretty
also pretty

And these two quirky little museums are why I think there’s no-such-thing as a “must-see.” You know what I didn’t see in Berlin? The Nefertiti bust at the Egyptian Museum. The Egyptian Museum is right next door to the Pergamon Museum, I could’ve easily gone, but when I think about that bust my first reaction is “eh.” Despite the fact that it and the Egyptian Museum are world class and are “Travelers Choice for 2014” winners on tripadvisor. I’m just not that into it. And yes, traveling is often about expanding horizons and doing new things and learning more, etc, etc, but when I think about bits of neon signs or Stradivarius violins my first reaction is “woohoo!!!,” which is way better than “eh.” So when it comes to how I’m going to spend my afternoon, I’ll go with “woohoo!!!” over “eh” anyday.  “Must-see” be damned.

Didn't see this. Totally ok with that. image via wikimedia commons
Didn’t see this. Totally ok with that. image via wikimedia commons

**Thanks to everybody who was supportive the other day. Donating an organ is weird, and people often don’t know what to say when you tell them, so I appreciate all the kind words.


9 thoughts on “The Anti-“Must-See”: Littler, weirder Museums in Berlin

  1. 100% agree with you regarding avoiding the “must see” attractions.
    I’ve adopted the method of asking people who work in local bars where to go while I’m hammered. If a place was mentioned enough times that you still remember it in your hungover amnesia the next morning then go there, it must be good. Locals are great for slagging off the big attractions too it’s hilarious.

  2. That Musical Instruments Museum looked so cool. I agree that the most rewarding museums may be off the beaten track, although it takes a certain amount of courage to forgo the must-sees for the wanna-sees. Maybe it’s because we’ve seen Nefertiti’s head in just about every book about — was it the New Kingdom?–ever written. She is almost as iconic as the Mona Lisa, although better-looking, in my opinion.

    It sounds like you are an amazing planner. The internet has really changed travel. (I haven’t left the US since 2004.)

  3. An interesting post and an example of one of the reasons why I follow your blog, eg if we visit Berlin, … We haven’t tried to use tripadvisor for planning what we aim to see to this point – as you say, there are better sources of the kind of information for that. So far, tripadvisor has been reasonably useful in the initial search for accommodation and places to eat that fall within our range of ambitions and budget, then we go to more-focused sites and establishments’ own sites for the pre-decision research. Even then, we like to leave room for at-destination information and serendipity; the latter has been responsible for some of our favourite travel memories.

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