When I landed at Berlin Tegel airport last week, a huge poster caught my eye: ‘Erlebnis Europa – Europa Experience’, advertising a new permanent interactive exhibition in the European House. ‘Discover the European Union in a completely new light!’ was the poster’s promise and just two weeks before the EU Referendum in the UK, this seemed a pretty good idea.
European House in the heart of Berlin
‘Europa Experience’ was opened in May by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, together with Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission whose respective institutions were responsible for this initiative. It is designed to raise interest in the European Union and encourage debate. ‘Everybody who is interested in finding out about Europe, its values and its interests will find the way to the exhibition’, said the Chancellor in her words of welcome.
It’s certainly not hard to find your way there in a practical sense. European House is only a stone’s throw from the Brandenburg Gate on Unter den Linden, next to one of the exits from the Brandenburger Tor underground station. Thousands of tourists stream past the door every day, so there is no better place to ‘sell’ Europe.
Stepping into the Europa Experience
The exhibition takes visitors on a journey through the history, politics and daily life of the European Union – all in 24 European languages. At its core is an impressive 360 degree cinema, the ‘Parliamentarium’. Here, you can join a virtual plenary session of the European Parliament or take part in a simulated game in the role of an MEP or a European Commissioner. I sat down and put on my headphones. And there, in the front row opposite me, was Nigel Farage. It all felt very real.
Inside the ‘Parliamentarium’
Outside the cinema you can record your parliamentary experience by having your photo taken against a suitably EU-style background and then emailed to family and friends. Visitors can also contact their MEP simply and directly by e-mail and anyone wishing to address a question or criticism to the EU, can simply hand it to one of the exhibition team. And there are plenty of clever-designed inter-active information points.
It was all very welcoming and user-friendly. I discovered a great deal more about the workings of the EU and took away some useful material. One brochure ‘Join the European Parliament’ gave details of applying for jobs and traineeships. Interestingly, all candidates must have a thorough knowledge of two of the official languages of the European Union, one of which must be English, French or German. Since foreign languages are no longer on the National Curriculum in England, it seems as if the English may be at a disadvantage in this particular job market.
A job in the European Parliament?
To mount a ‘Europa Experience’ exhibition in every major European city is an unrealistic dream. But its aim to increase dialogue between politicians and citizens of Europe is worthy. The words spoken by Angela Merkel at the exhibition’s opening ceremony couldn’t be more relevant at this time:
“We, the politicians, must explain our actions. We must answer questions… This applies to member states and to the European institutions. What becomes of Europe and how Europe develops, lies in our hands. It is up to us. ..It is important to fight for this Europe.”
Unter den Linden 78. Open daily from 10 am until 6 pm. Admission free.
Website: Erlebnis Europa