It was a very rainy and grey day in Berlin last Friday which seemed like perfect conditions to go and wander about a medical and pathology museum. Who cares what the weather outside is doing when there’s specimens in jars to look at!
The Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin is the main hospital in Berlin which was created in the 1700s as a base for medical and anatomical teaching. There is a rich and fascinating history of this institution from it’s origins to it’s time situated right alongside the Berlin Wall. Today it is easily accessed, a short walk from a tram and bus stop along the river. The museum itself is clearly signposted from the street, and on Friday it happened to be nearby a group of what appeared to be students singing O Tannenbaum very out of tune. We were glad to be away from them!
The museum is set across three slightly confusing floors that each hold their own exhibits. From what I can gather online, the ground floor exhibit changes seasonally but the middle and upper floors are permanent. There is a lot of information in both English and German, although a large part of the pathology exhibit is only in German. I’m not complaining because I don’t mind one bit being in Germany and all, just a warning to anyone going along who doesn’t speak German like me!
We started at the top floor and worked our way down. Photography is not allowed at the museum which is standard fare for anyone who visits pathology museums in the UK. I can direct you to photos of the museum but anyone can Google hopefully! The top floor is set out like a ward with ‘beds’, each one demonstrating a condition such as sepsis or tuberculosis and describing a historic case with an explanation of the treatment available then and now. I really liked the exhibit a lot on the top floor, it was fascinating to see the different equipment and how it was laid out was a great use of the space but a move from traditional museum layout.
Toilet selfie is always essential at museums with no photography allowed!
The middle floor houses the exceptional pathology collection, although compact compared to somewhere like The Gordon Museum, it has some great specimens and examples of conditions. Sadly a lot of these I couldn’t translate with my very bad German but this did not make it any less interesting. At the back of the room was an exceptionally large mega colon that made Laura B wince and ask me to stop explaining what a megacolon was. If you’re interested, you can read all about the here but in all honesty the one there was huge.
The ground floor is currently set up to be an exhibit on the life and work of Dr Ferdinand Sauerbruch, a pioneering surgeon who was based in Berlin at the Charité from 1928-1949. Sauerbruch invented a way of operating inside a pressure chamber which allowed thorax surgery that had never been able to be completed before. He also led the way in prostheses after World War One. I found this exhibit a little tough considering his involvement with the experiments of the SS in the concentration camps. Sauerbruch was tried but never convicted for any Nazi involvement due to lack of evidence, according to Wikipedia. This highlights starkly how some of the great medical progression of the past has often come from situations like this and involvement in activities that are utterly abhorrent. It’s a very tough aspect of the history of medicine to even try to begin to describe.
According to the website, the Charité closes in February and does not reopen until the Autumn of 2021. I’m intrigued to see what the refurbishment will entail and what the new museum will hold, any excuse to return to the very exciting and vibrant city in the future.