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Interactive Anne Frank exhibition tackles racism

Suzanne Cords
June 15, 2018

It's an exhibition that transcends a traditional museum visit. The new learning lab at Frankfurt's Anne Frank educational center allows young visitors to digitally dive into the hidden world of a persecuted Jewish girl.

Lernlabor Anne Frank Morgen mehr
Image: BSAF/F. Schmitt

A replica of Anne Frank's world famous diary, where the young Jewish girl describes her time hiding from the Nazis in concealed rooms in an Amsterdam building, is displayed right at the entrance of the new Anne Frank educational center.

But this is the only traditional exhibit on show, with visitors needing to access multimedia tools to learn more about Anne's life in the Secret Annex of the apartment on the Prinsengracht canal.

Titled Anne Frank. Morgen Mehr (Anne Frank. More Tomorrow), the new exhibition is conceived "not as a museum, but a learning laboratory," director Meron Mendel explained.

A page of the Anne Frank diary
Many visitors were surprised to see that Anne wrote her diary in DutchImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Instead of leading classes and groups of young people through a linear tour, the exhibition rather allows them be guided by their own interests, "to show that it can be fun to question and challenge yourself," said Mendel. "We take young people seriously. Our motto is: Your opinion counts!"

Interactive learning

Established in 2003, the educational center located in Anne Frank's hometown, Frankfurt, has already attracted nearly 120,000 visitors with its permanent exhibition, Anne Frank: A girl from Germany.

The new interactive learning lab aims to attract even more.

Since young people regularly interact with computers, videos and digital environments, Mendel came up with the idea of using multimedia tools to deal with topics such as anti-Semitism, racism and discrimination — also part of many young people's everyday experience — by visiting the Museum of Technology in Berlin. After he observed his son enthusiastically trying out the interactive installations there, he decided to apply the concept to the Anne Frank educational center as well.

"It's a playground and a field of experimentation bridging the present and the past," said Meron.

Read more: Rare Anne Frank poem sells for 140,000 euros at auction

Exploring Anne Frank's hiding place

The center's 14 employees help out the visitors and reveal technical tricks — for example, how a button allows users to visit Anne Frank in her Secret Annex, where the Frank family hid from July 6, 1942 until they were discovered and arrested on August 6, 1944.

The interactive learning lab allows visitors to go through reconstructed rooms and discover Anne's private corner, where a teddy bear sits on her bed, or the common space shared by all the families hiding with them — including the young Peter, her first and only love.

Read more: Secret pages in Anne Frank's diary reveal her reflections on sex

Visitors at the Anne Frank educational center
Pressing a button leads to a virtual visit of the Secret AnnexImage: BSAF/F. Schmitt

The scenes shown in the 360-degree videos are based on Anne's descriptions in her diary. A clickable audio book describes the people sharing Anne's hiding space. Contemporary witnesses also offer their testimonies.

Identifying with Anne Frank's story

"Anne Frank's story feels so relatable, because she was born in Frankfurt," says ninth-grader Petra. "Discrimination is still as current a topic as it used to be back then. You notice that, for example, in the subway, when people snap at each other."

Lernlabor Anne Frank Morgen mehr
Image: BSAF

Anne Frank also leads the students from the past to the future with the words, "tomorrow more," which she wrote at the end of her diary's first entry.

"Tomorrow more" is also another motto of the educational center: more courage to oppose hate, more respect for others, more resistance, more justice and more self-reflection.

Clever digital devices

The young visitors were particularly impressed by the "Racist Glasses" device: With the special glasses, drawings of "completely normal" people can be observed through the distorted lenses of prejudice, turning a girl into a stereotypical Roma or "prostitute", while another student appears to be a gangster or a nasty-looking rapper.

Lernlabor Anne Frank Morgen mehr
The "Rassist Glasses": Prejudice is a way of seeing thingsImage: BSAF

"I think we need to get to know a person before judging them," said student Laura, reacting to her experience.

A few steps further, the "Hate Speech" station challenges visitors to recognize and act against the hate that's so frequently spread through social media.

No ready-made answers

The visiting school children are not, however, left to deal with their impressions on their own. At the end of the visit, everything is summarized and discussed as a group, said curator Deborah Krieg. "The young visitors are invited to question themselves: What are my own perspectives on these issues? What do I find unfair? What do I want to change?"

Among the special visitors on the opening day of the interactive learning lab on June 12, Anne Frank's 89th birthday, was the 97-year-old concentration camp survivor Trude Simonsohn. Asked by youths what they should do to prevent the Nazi horrors from happening again, she answered: "Immediately say 'no!' to every injustice."

Anne Frank. More Tomorrow celebrates its public opening with a special program on June 16-17.