I was extremely excited to go to the Warsaw Uprising Museum on my recent trip to Poland’s capital, but sorely disappointed by the tourist trap I found. I mean no disrespect to the heroic resistance group that stood up to Nazi Germany in 1944; rather, I wish to discuss the organization of the museum itself. As a former art history student who has worked in museums, galleries, and curated a couple of dozen art shows, perhaps I am a bit harsh on museums in general. However, I found the Warsaw Uprising Museum to be poorly organized, failing to communicate much information, and downright tacky.
(above) Warsaw Uprising Museum: Crowds waiting to go upstairs, and tunnels in the basement.
Perhaps my biggest mistake was to visit the museum on a Sunday when admission is free, but I was with my school and had no choice. I should also add right from the beginning that everyone else in my group seemed to be impressed and to really enjoy the museum. In my opinion, the biggest problem with the museum was its failure to communicate information about the Uprising, and I left feeling like I had learned nothing. It was truly a museum for people who do not like museums, as seen in their many different gimmicks to portray the events of the Uprising, and thus the information was lost. I love when museums use innovative and interactive ways to educate the public. For example, I thought Budapest’s House of Terror Museum was surprisingly worth seeing in a city with dozens of great museums. No photographs were allowed, and there was an easy-to-follow chronological path. Visitors could watch news clips, pick up phones to hear different audio recordings, and see memorabilia from different events throughout the 20th century history of Hungary. In addition to the informative handouts in each room that visitors could take home, the best part of this museum was that it was an easy to understand walk through history.
Facade of House of Terror, Budapest Hungary (no photography allowed inside museum)
Despite the obvious fact that the museum in Warsaw modeled itself after the museum in Budapest, right down to the same font on the information papers in each room, it was as if the Warsaw Uprising Museum exploded into chaos. The expansive rooms make it easy to take a wrong turn and quickly get confused about the information portrayed. The booming sound of bombs dropping rang in my ears the whole time I tried to explore the museum, and the pushing of little kids to look into every peephole or screen quickly got annoying. It was as if the museum thought they needed to portray the information quickly, rather than effectively, so they rapidly flashed images of historic events at every turn. I quickly grew tired of waiting behind lines of children to look at the images through binoculars for no apparent reason. The claustrophobic tunnels in the basement felt like a playground. Unlike in its Hungarian counterpart, the Warsaw Uprising Museum had very little “traditional” exhibitions to ground its overuse of multimedia.
Obviously, the city of Warsaw spent a lot of money on this museum. As my first visit, I am unable to compare Sundays to other days of the week, and perhaps I am unfair in my assessment. However, “In Your Pocket: Warsaw” seems to agree with me about the jostling by the crowds and the ease of making a wrong turn and thus finding yourself lost in history. I couldn’t help but longing for my experience in Sarajevo when I visited the Bosnian History Museum. I will forever be moved by experience looking at the exhibition on the Siege of Sarajevo. The exhibition was one large room, showing historical documents and memorabilia from the years of hardship. Visitors easily moved around the room through the display in chronological order, pausing over the artwork made by children or the re-creation of the living conditions at the time. This museum shows that there is no need for technology to educate visitors.
(above) Bosnian History Museum: Sarajevo, Bosnia
All in all, I go to museums to learn. I left the Warsaw Uprising Museum with the sound of bombs dropping still ringing in my ears, feeling like I had learned nothing. My classmates, however, enjoyed their time and the multimedia-filled exhibitions. It remains popular with tourists visiting Warsaw, so other people must feel differently. At the end of it all, I couldn’t help but wondering… is this meant to be a museum or an attraction?