No visit to Berlin is complete without a trip to the Gemäldegalerie, one of my favorite museums. On previous visits, I'd never stayed until closing time. This time, I saw what they do there at closing time, and it wasn't pretty. Hence the letter:
Dear Berlin Museums Visitors’ Service,
Recently, I visited the Gemäldegalerie (Painting Gallery) in Berlin. The museum advertised that it was open until 18:00, and I decided to stay until that time to enjoy the collection.
I have always enjoyed my previous visits to this elegant museum, but this time was different. 15 – perhaps even 20 -- minutes before 18:00, my ears were suddenly assaulted by an audio message from blown speakers in the museum’s ceiling. Amid crackles of distortion, the announcement played the melody of Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ and announced to visitors that the gallery would be closing shortly. The first announcement, in German, was then followed by an equally distorted and almost unrecognizable message in English, then, if I recall correctly, in French.
But that was not all. At the same time, the museum’s docents positioned themselves in all the doorways to the individual rooms, as if they were nightclub bouncers. To actually get into a room at 17:50 and see a painting, you had to convince a docent to let you in. Many of the docents were unfriendly and suspicious, treating visitors who wanted to enjoy a painting at 17:54 as if they were potential criminals. Finally, all the museum’s visitors were herded out of the museum at exactly 18:00, after being pressured to leave.
As I could tell by the visitors’ comments, this unprofessional treatment left a terrible impression that the museum’s visitors will take back to their home countries. When guests pay to enjoy a museum which closes at 18:00, then they should be able to actually enjoy the museum until 18:00.
To improve the visitors’ experience, I suggest that the Gemäldegalerie (1) repair the speakers in the museum ceiling; (2) broadcast only one closing message (everyone will know what it means, even if they don’t understand the language) and do so at, say, 17:57; and (3) give guests 10-15 minutes after the official closing time to leave the museum.
As paying guests in one of the world’s finest collections of Old Masters, they deserve no less.