I’ll admit that when the decision was made to go to the Imperial War Museum, I was less than thrilled.
It sounds depressing on a couple of fronts- Imperialism and War. A big societal push to take over and control through force. Obviously with anything involving war, the museum would document death and destruction. And it did.
But I’m also of the belief that to shy away from heavy, dark history is to do a diservice to those who died for it. So I made the journey from the wonderfully posh Belgravia, down the river to the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth.
The Imperial War Museum is free to the public and features exhibits from World War I through the present (London is jam packed with museums- if you’re looking for museums about wars pre-dating WWI, a quick search will turn up smaller, more boutique museums).
I made my way through the WWI section which is informative and full of really interesting exhibits of kits and wartime clothing and then through to the Holocaust exhibit. The exhibit is extensive and somber. As you wind through, you’ll see massive collections of items taken from Jewish citizens – crates of gold rings, walls of shoes, piles of coats, eyeglasses, buttons. Individual stories are told through transcription, posters, audio, and video. One thing that really struck me was how quiet this exhibit was. A few teenagers chuckled to themselves about something completely unrelated and the whole room silenced them with stares. And while I think its very important to be frank with children about what happened during WWII, please be very conscious of your children’s maturity level while at the exhibit – and not just because kids are sometimes inappropriately silly but because the museum shows a very powerful mini documentary as well as some Nazi footage from concentration camps, including execution footage and mass graves.
The exhibit continues into post-war Britain during a time of economic instability and rebuilding. You’ll pass through several rooms of a typical home with information about gender roles, education, technology, and the economy. I thought it was really fascinating.
Outside, you’ll find segments of the Berlin Wall and the Tibetan Peace Garden. Many visitors would wander through the art-covered wall pieces, smell the roses interspersed throughout, and then sit in the Peace Garden for a good half-hour talking quietly and mulling things over.
I highly recommend it – it’s definitely not a cheery place but it does provoke really important thoughts and conversations while giving a good look at what Britain endured throughout the past century.