The latest results of research into our nightlife behaviour are merciless: around 40% of all Europeans, children included, do not get enough night rest. Living in a world where both light and sound are nearly omnipresent (just think of that glowing little screen you might be reading this on), we are on the best way towards un-learning how to sleep.
Also we tend to forget that night is everything else as just another well-illuminated time of the day. Something we notice very quickly when suddenly located in
a place where the night still is pitch-dark, dead silent and ominously empty of other human beings carrying glowing smartphones in their hands, like Brandenburgian forests or historical villages in Derbyshire (my warmest greetings to Sudbury!).
That is why it might be helpful to remind ourselves what Night is and should be about. And what it used to be for people for a better part of our existence. The latest exhibition at Berlin’s Museum for Communication is a very interesting place to begin.
Called Die Nacht – Alles außer Schlaf (”The Night: Everything But Sleep”) it shows the time between dusk and dawn as a space in which we rest (if capable of resting), work, enjoy various forms of entertainment (and since this is Berlin, clubbing plays a huge role) as well as one where our fears tend to take on particularly acute forms (be ready to face Nosferatu again).
It also presents our weapons against the latter: the exhibition shows how both Science and Art have been used to understand and disarm those fears. Wonderful maps of night sky and night-sky globes, which you will find in the Sternenklar (Clear as Stars) section, were not only meant as scientific tools, they were also supposed to reassure us: “Look, it is all science. Nothing to be afraid of.”
Art, on the other hand, represented by, among others, a beautiful 1822 painting by Adolf Senff, “The Night with Her Children, Sleep and Death”, tried to bring more peace into people’s minds by showing the Night as a gentle mother, someone who would make sure you rest when you need it the most (including its ultimate form when we die).
But what about those who cannot sleep, either because they may not or because they don not wish to? The exhibition sheds light onto their nights, too. Night-shift workers, prostitutes (not without a reason known as the “Ladies of the Night”) or the homeless – whose rest is disrupted and might be the most perilous part of their life. They are an entirely different group from those whose nights are the time of frivolous abandon and fun.
In the 1920s, often referred the as the “Golden Twenties” (although in Berlin they were everything but that), German capital was a place that never slept. The latest TV series, Babylon Berlin, based on Volker Kutcher’s bestselling novel Nasser Fisch, shows that very clearly: nights in the city were filled with cabarets, clubs, dancing, alcohol and drugs. Die Nacht: Alles außer Schlaf exhibition makes an elegant and clever reference to that in its section “Zwilicht. Salon, Bordstein, Club” (Twilight. Salon, Street Curb, Club).
You enter a room appearing to be literally breathing pink plush, fringes, sequins and beads and you do not want to leave it until somebody passed you a dry martini and a cigar. Surrounded by feather fans, perfume bottles and table-telephones from long-forgotten Berlin Etablissements (Museum for Communication has an original table-phone from the legendary “Ballhaus Resi” on display), you do understand the urge to celebrate the night instead of sleeping through it.
However, the next section, devoted to the Night as work time is a clear wake-up call. Not even the exquisite objects displayed in that room – neither a miniature replica of a Junkers F13 aeroplane used to transport mail between German and European cities at night and a machine which flew at night from NYC to Chicago in 1923, nor a map of all Baltic Sea lighthouses along the Pomeranian coast and not even the original 1930s map of night-train lines in Germany – could convince anyone that working when others sleep could be considered a dream job.
Even though the exhibition, arranged as an enfilade leading you slowly through the museum’s rooms, is not particularly large (a blessing in disguise, really, since – considering the topic – anything bigger would run the risk of being too exhausting), by the time you have reached the end, you get a sense of having learnt something. You cannot put your finger on it, describe it in hard, solid terms but you feel that there are some things you might have to sleep on that night.
Die Nacht: Alles außer Schlaf at Museum für Kommunikation, Leipziger Straße 16 (corner Mauerstraße), Berlin.
Opening hours and prices here. A separate “museum trail” for children available (“BeGEISTert”) – details here (in German).
To find out more about the exhibition visit the following page (in English).