For the past month, our in-house writer and winner of The Reader Berlin Home is Elsewhere competition, Dolores Walshe, has called our Hotel “home”. We are thrilled that she agreed to fully immerse herself in The Circus experience and join our Behind The Curtain Tour of The Natural History Museum in the afterhours. We kindly asked her to transfer her impressions to a piece of paper, as words are her playground and her craft tool! Without further elaboration, here’s what she thought of our Dinosaur Tour:
“Walking through the vast dinosaur hall of Berlin’s Natural History Museum after dark with our excellent host, Callum, it’s as if we’re in the realm of the mythic as the spotlight eerily outlines Oskar, the world’s tallest dinosaur skeleton, with his very own Guinness Book of Records certificate to prove it. The place is hushed with the history of bones already 150 million years old, and thanks to The Circus Hotel’s “Behind the Curtain” exclusive tour, we have the place to ourselves, which lends mystery and magic to the evening.
We throw our heads back, looking all the way up along Oskar’s incredibly long neck, so we can finally make contact with his eye sockets almost 13.27 metres above us. Jakob, our English-speaking tour guide (there was also a German-speaking one, Tom), tells us that to fit Oskar the Giraffatitan into this enormous central atrium of the museum, they had to leave out some of his bones in order to shorten his neck. And little Oskar isn’t even fully grown. If he were, he’d be 18 metres tall. Monumental!
We are led then through this beautiful old building in semi-darkness to meet silvery skeletal Tristan, one of the most complete, and biggest, specimens of Tyrannosaurus Rex. Here, though, the skull is a manufactured one. His real skull, complete with teeth that have a biting force of five tonnes, is mounted in a glass case nearby, as his skeletal body cannot support the massive weight of it. Having absorbed the colour of the limestone it lay undiscovered in for millions of years, it, too, is deeply silvered, as if spray-painted by moonlight, mouth yawning, eye sockets staring from another world, gleaming in the dark, almost mystical.
Jakob and Tom take us then to see a primeval bird, Archaeopteryx, the best known fossil in the world, cleverly lit for ease of viewing. This is a creature with the traits of both reptile and bird: teeth, claws on its wings, feathers and wishbone, testifying to the truth of Darwin’s evolutionary principles. How wondrous strange to discover the birds we take for granted nesting in our rooftops, flitting about our parks and gardens, have evolved from dinosaurs? How can we ever look on them in quite the same way again?
Later, Jakob explains modern methods of taxidermy as we view some masterpieces: Knut, the polar bear, Bao Bao, the giant Panda and Bobby the Gorilla, who, even 80 years after his death, is startlingly lifelike. Any second now he’s going to lift his arm in a wave as he sits calmly observing us with keen, intelligent eyes, hands at rest, his fingers and nails so closely aligned to our own, it’s uncanny.
Entering the museum’s Wet Collection Wing, we are awestruck. The sheer beauty of this glass-walled room is breath-taking, a work of art in itself. We also shiver a little at the drop in temperature to 15 degrees. This is necessary because one million specimens from different animal groups are housed here in glass jars in a rich bronze-coloured mixture of ethanol and water, to preserve them. They stand, all sizes, side by side, row after row, ranging from floor to ceiling, a virtual panorama of life archived in glass reflecting itself almost to infinity.
This is such an impressive tour of what is a wonderfully impressive museum. We came away, with Callum guiding us safely back to the Circus Hotel and hostel, knowing we’d have to go back another day (or night!) to see the insect and mineral collections, the section on the cosmos and solar system, and the ethical stance the museum has taken on the poaching of macaws for commercial gain, which has already rendered these colourful birds a “vulnerable” species.”