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  • Writer's pictureDr Julien Drouart

German Spy Museum: an Unclear Concept

German Spy Museum: an Unclear Concept

The German Spy Museum aims to provide a historical overview of the phenomenon, set in a deliberately modern and interactive space. Like its subject, the whole is an illusion.

A Visit to the German Spy Museum is Optional.

Berlin's history of espionage is both tragic and fantastic. During the Cold War, the western part of the city was a veritable nest of spies. To prevent any invasion attempt, Allied forces made intelligence work the cornerstone of their strategy. On the other side of the Iron Curtain, intelligence work gave way to systematic surveillance of the population by the East German political police, the Stasi. The decision to open an espionage museum was therefore entirely justified.

However, the theme of espionage had already been approached in various museums in the capital. Near Checkpoint Charlie, the Museum of the Wall evokes the ingenuity of the passages to the West. In Dahlem, the Allied Museum presents a piece of the original US Army spy tunnel, discovered by the Soviets following the action of a double agent. Finally, the Stasi Museum offers a remarkably comprehensive look at political surveillance in the former East Germany.

Inaugurated in 2015, the German Spy Museum aims to create an educational and entertaining space devoted entirely to the subject. It even pretends to establish a history of espionage that goes beyond the romantic image of the spy to address more contemporary issues. The result is an appalling mess.

The laser detection track at the German Spy Museum in Berlin.

Filling the Void

The German Spy Museum is located on Leipziger Platz, in a newly-built building complex. Its modern, heritage-free building allows it to occupy a fairly large surface area, guaranteeing a fairly long visit time. The interiors are composed of wide corridors and dimly lit rooms, creating a sense of intimacy or secrecy that suits the spy theme perfectly. On the plus side, the tour follows a roundabout route, which helps to regulate the flow of visitors.

Unfortunately, the collections are rather thin. Objects are few in number and their interest is sometimes questionable. Instead, video screens are used in profusion in all the rooms, some of which are completely covered with them. Most have an essentially decorative function and offer no added value. In some cases, the screens even replace information leaflets with touch-sensitive tablets, imposing absolutely counter-intuitive manipulations.

Overall, the exhibition is disappointing in its lack of coherence and depth. Espionage becomes a catch-all pretext, from Mata Hari to James Bond to Edward Snowden. The focus then shifts to the interactive modules, which make the most of the technical aspects of the theme. For example, the laser detection trail is beautifully staged. This attraction is the museum's main selling point. However, waiting times are long and the module is regularly taken over for birthday parties.

Exhibition room at the German Spy Museum in Berlin.

A Netflix Museum Experience

To compensate for the lack of authentic artifacts, the German Spy Museum has opted for a 2.0 museography with excessive use of video screens. This overexposure is neither a guarantee of success, nor a novelty in the city's artistic landscape. Tablets, monitors and televisions are merely supports, and in the absence of a coherent narrative, they become a curiosity of which one quickly tires.

The thematic segments are ill-defined and follow one another without any real thread, mixing all the eras and treating them very unevenly. It would have been wiser to concentrate on a specific aspect and treat it in depth. In this respect, the section devoted to spy films is fairly symptomatic of indigestible filler and a lack of creativity.

The German Spy Museum is more of a theme park than an educational or informative space. Form counts as much as content, if not more. Unfortunately, interactions are too limited and the few good ideas for staging provide only sporadic amusement. The overall aesthetic hardly impresses, and the museography already seems outdated. The story provided an ideal setting, but it's a writing convenience. Options based on fiction could have been considered. This would have brought a bit of freshness to a theme so often tackled in Berlin.

James Bond segment at the German Spy Museum in Berlin.


  • Some interesting interactions

  • Relatively large surface area

  • A sense of direction with no need to go back and forth


  • A poorly mastered concept

  • Several damaged modules

  • Poor quality of some rooms

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