Today marks Holocaust Memorial Day and, for as long as I can remember, this leads to annual news stories not just about commemorative events, but about the ignorance that a lot of us have around the Holocaust and everyone affected by it.
For a prime example, see the idiotic posers at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial, called out by the brilliant Yolocaust web project, which has now been taken down after mixed but generally positive feedback.
Sadly, anti-Semitism has never totally disappeared. There have been reports of Holocaust survivors being abused in the street and, in a cruel modern twist, Jewish Twitter users being targeted and mercilessly trolled because of their religion and heritage. Even Google search results have been manipulated by the far-right.
London is a museum lover’s dream, but there are always far too many high-profile exhibitions and permanent collections to choose from and, try as I might, I never get to see them all. Hidden London museums, in comparison, are usually cheaper and quieter to visit, yet they’re easily overlooked.
The thing is, those smaller and more obscure attractions don’t get an equal billing, and many tourists miss out on these underrated attractions. I’ve selected six of my favourite hidden London museums to redress the balance.
Patarei Prison is certainly strange, but overwhelmingly sad, rather than creepy, in the evening light. It’s silently and slowly decaying, the once proud fort that’s now shedding its last layer of skin, generous flakes of Soviet-era oil-based paint in muted colours. Tallinn’s formidable sea fortress no longer keeps anyone from the outside world: instead, it’s full of weeds, rust and damp.
Sadly Patarei was permanently closed to visitors from 7th October, as it’s become too unsafe, but it’ll reopen in the future with full access and hopefully a museum in place. In the meantime, you can see the exterior from Beeta promenade, but I want to share why the site is so important.
It doesn’t feel like 15 years have passed since the 9/11 attacks, nor two years since the 9/11 Memorial Museum opened at Ground Zero. Yet, somehow, they have, and the memorial site at Ground Zero is so familiar and so firmly embedded on the tourist route that a group of lads on a stag party (or bachelor party, to American readers) will nonchalantly pose in front of the two sobering memorial pools, a blow-up doll alongside them.
The stag photos rightly caused controversy this week, but the outrage didn’t extend to the preening and pouting fellow tourists around them. One couple took a kissing selfie, perhaps blissfully unaware of their surroundings or just too self-absorbed to care. The thing is, it’s a privilege to stand at the memorial. It should be a place where you stop to reflect, whether you choose to go to the adjoining museum or not. If you are brave enough to face the Memorial Museum, this is what you can expect.
Amid last year’s mental health scandals – including spending cuts, insensitive comments from politicians, and crisis care failures – there was a big step forward in tackling the stigma of psychological illness. It came from a newly-opened museum and charity: Bethlem Museum of the Mind, in Beckenham, Kent, recently nominated for the 2016 Museum of the Year award.
Yes, the name might sound familiar. Bethlem is the fourth site of the notorious hospital better known as Bedlam. You won’t find power-crazed doctors leaving patients in chains – a stereotypical mental image associated with the ‘madhouse’ of earlier centuries – but you will find a place where modern mental illness is explained. What’s more, entry is free, and it’s open to everyone.
You don’t decide to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau on a whim, so it’s crucial to make the most of your time there. In my last post I covered the emotional impact of visiting the two camps, but now I’m focusing on the practical side.
Do you want to take the bus, the train, a pre-booked coach trip (with or without a tour included), or would you rather hire a driver? When you arrive, would you prefer to wander alone or join a group? If you’re indecisive, or a bit confused by conflicting opinions from other travellers, take a deep breath, grab a cuppa and we’ll go through the options.
There’s so much to tell you about visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau that I’ve split this into two posts: first the emotional side of things, then the practical side. It’s important not to let logistics overtake the reasons you’d want to visit: to learn, to pay respects, to remember, and to pass on what you’ve seen.
My mum and I arrived on a cold but sunny March morning and joined a group tour with an official guide. This was what we discovered under bright blue skies.
What to Expect
Auschwitz I looks less like a traditional camp and more like a forlorn housing estate, because it used to be an army barracks, whereas Birkenau’s low wooden buildings were stables for horses before they housed people, and the brick buildings came later. Life goes on around the camps, with houses and businesses on their very fringes, and signs directing you to KFC. Monowitz-Buna, one of the satellite camps, was based further away and doesn’t exist anymore, but our guide pointed it out from Birkenau as laying beyond the two industrial towers in the distance.
I’ve seen couples posing for romantic photos at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, and children use it as a playground, leaving sweet wrappers behind; I’ve seen bored teenagers struggling to feign interest at Sachsenhausen concentration camp. In those cases it was the visitors, not the attractions, lacking emotional intelligence and leaving me speechless.
London’s Jack the Ripper Museum, in the heart of Whitechapel, has gone one step further in terms of emotional intelligence failures, by actively encouraging tourists to mock murder victims. The appalling serial killings of Victorian prostitutes are offered as the perfect subject for a selfie or two this Halloween weekend. A recent press release, publicising the museum as a Halloween attraction, suggests visitors take “a selfie with the serial killer” (or, at least, a mysterious bloke in a top hat). Fancy “a picture with Jack in Mitre Square together with the body of Catherine Eddowes”? Go ahead. It’s not like Eddowes can complain, right?
A trip to New York shouldn’t be taken lightly, but it’s easy to get bogged down by the sheer amount of recommendations for this city. To make life easier, I’ve picked apart some of the key questions you might have about planning and taking your city break.
Q: I only have one day in New York. What shouldn’t I miss?
Start with an early morning bus tour, which will help you get your bearings. Your best bet would be a hop-on-hop-off tour, starting at 8am, with a 24 hour ticket. I’d recommend seeing One World Trade Centre away from the bus, as it’s best experienced in person. When I last visited the museum and monument weren’t established, but even then it was a sobering place to be.
There’s nothing like a walking tour to immerse yourself in a city, but being guided by a pirate is an added incentive. During my recent stay in Bristol I finally got to try out the famous Pirate Walk, led by Pirate Pete, which covers swashbucklers, slavery and 18th century life. Pete is a lively entertainer, with his eye-catching costume and Jolly Roger flag, and you can tell he loves his job – after all, he’s been offering tours for 15 years, and has even given lectures in Florida about the famous Blackbeard.