On the way to the epicentre of preunification Berlin, Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, Anna W and I mused upon the ethics of what we were doing. As students of museum studies we are aware, perhaps more than most, of the phenomenon of 'dark tourism,' a term coined by Foley and Lennon (2000) to describe the process - to give a very simple explanation - of visiting places associated with with death and destruction (it's more complex that that - predicated by the post-modern condition, global communications, commodification etc., but that's the general gist of it). Yet, we had to admit that we were still inexorably drawn to these places.
I guess I have a fairly legitimate excuse (if one is necessary). I am a member of the last generation to reach my teenage years under the spectre of the Cold War and have a clear memory of the lead-up to, and collapse of the Berlin Wall. I watched the events unfold live on television, and I can say with total certainty that those events (along with the Tian'anmen Square 'incident') led me to my current research. My academic interest thus absolves me of the dubious moniker 'dark tourist,' doesn't it?
A particularly troubling aspect for both Anna W and I was the question of whether it was ethical, even amoral, to take photographs of the remains of the Berlin Wall. We decided that we would (and did, as the photographs above testify). But we would not, as many tourists do, pose in front of it. This seemed like a good solution. We could satisfy our curiosity within the bounds of academic detachment and objectivity.
I cannot deny that I adore communist kitsch. I am fully aware of how this contradicts with what I've written above. I was keen to, as I put it to Anna Ch, 'get me some ostalgie.' Yet, when I did get there, the commodification of Berlin's troubled past repelled; it was largely exploitative and inappropriate. As a case in point I wish I had taken a photograph of the 'I love Checkpoint Charlie' merchandise in the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie which, incidentally, was in dire need of an interpretive revamp, in limbo between its pre and post-reunification existence (I may write more on this later), although its two shops were contemporary and consumer-aware. I was left unsure and unsettled, questioning my own academic and personal motivations.
Ultimately, after all this soul-searching, I gave in. I did take a photograph of the 'Two Annas' at the East Side Gallery. But I captured them mid-conversation, standing alongside the wall, not posing and smiling for the camera. We were there, but we were self-aware.