Dialoghaus is a place that more people need to know about. While taking a walk in Hamburg and heading for the most photographed place in the city, we passed the Dialoghaus. I got curious and walked in and immediately I knew that we needed to experience this place and all of its exhibitions. No, this place is not a huge tourist attraction – but it needs to be! Join us into this brand new world where you will learn much about yourself and about life.
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Dialoghaus – three exhibitions that will teach you incredibly much
I can’t fathom how this place is not a bigger attraction in Hamburg than it is. And I tried to get to the bottom of what the reason is for that. Don’t get me wrong. Dialoghaus is a visited place. However, most of the people coming here are students and locals. People that will be working with disabled people or old people come here to learn more. This is a great way to gain more empathy and to learn more about how other people are struggling in their life.
At the same time, it’s a great place for everyone to experience. So what is the Dialoghaus and what will you learn here? This place will answer some really important questions. What does it feel like to be blind? What does it feel like to be deaf? And what will life be like when you get old and frail? We are forever honored and feel privileged that we got to explore this place and we urge you to go there when you get to Hamburg. Make sure to check out their exhibitions and experience them all. If you have the time, don’t do it all in one day because it becomes overwhelming. Bring your family and friends and make them explore this “different” world. It’s 100 percent that you will appreciate life a bit more.
Dialoghaus is inside a really old and nice building
We got to explore this place all in one day. Leon Wittern, their pr manager showed us around in the building before we started with the different exhibitions. In the year 2000, they opened “dialogue in the dark”. A place where you lose your sight for 90 minutes. Their exhibition “dialogue in time” is their latest exhibition and it’s the most technical of them all. We got to take a walk inside the building and we learned that this is the last building in Hamburg where they are still using lifts to hoist up different stuff in the house.
And this place was the first house in Hamburg that got fire exits, how awesome is that?! Before it became the center of teaching and understanding as it is today – this place was used to store carpets and spices. You get the sense of the “old” when walking around and seeing the event room. But the exhibitions are super modern and so well made that I believe that there is no way this could be any better or any more insightful way to learn so much about being blind, deaf and getting old.
The guides at Dialoghaus are super professional
Who can teach you more or explain better than someone that is either blind, deaf or old? All the guides that work at Dialoghaus are perfect for the task of being guides. In the dialogue in the dark – all guides are either completely blind or visually impaired. At the Dialogue in silence, the guides are deaf. There is no way that you can “cheat” or break character and ask your guide about something because they can’t hear you. That forces you to try to engage with sign language.
At the Dialogue with time it’s the same. The guides are “old” people that have the life experience to teach you something new and to show you how you can live your life to the fullest. A lot of us are afraid of aging but at the same time, there’s nothing that you can do to stop it. By visiting this place – you get hope and the knowledge that you can be aging in a great way! Two huge thumbs up for the concept of getting the perfect guides for these experiences.
Dialogue with time
Helga Otto is our guide for the day. She is 79 years old and she is one of the many tour guides that work here. Since we are here on short notice, the tour is in German. They also have English speaking guides but since we are here last minute, we get to join a german tour. The problem is that we don’t speak German but that is arranged in a great way. We have Vevatera Kandji, a translator that lets us know everything that Helga is saying.
The visit starts and we get to watch a movie that shows aging. I have no idea how the movie is made but it’s incredible. It starts with a young girl and then she transforms into an old woman. Her name is Danielle and it’s very easy but at the same time a super intense vision to see the transformation. There’s something beautiful about aging at the same time as a lot of people are afraid of it. It also shows that aging takes a long time and it’s not something that happens overnight.
Getting to know our guide and her life
Before we get into the actual exhibition, we all get a necklace each. I don’t want to spoil the thing about the necklace even if I would love to tell you all about it. It’s a great way to show the effects of aging but that you will have to find out for yourself when visiting Dialogue with time. In the first room, the guide (in our case Helga) shares her life story and gives us some great tips on how to conquer aging.
There are several milestones in life that show your aging. For example finishing school, getting your first job and getting married amongst others. Helga lets us know that she and her husband opened the first nonsmoking restaurant in Hamburg. She is 79 years old but she is filled with energy and life. After that, we all get to pick a picture that shows how we want to age. It’s really interesting to see how different we all think and how different we pick what’s important to us.
Exploring aging first hand at Dialogue with time
After a while, we enter another room. Here we have 30 minutes to explore aging first hand. It’s not easy to know how we will age but there is so much help that you can get today that we never heard about. So, how do you find out how it feels like to be old? At Dialog with time at Dialoghaus they have come as close as I believe is possible. They have several different stations where we can learn more about aging – all in an interesting and great way.
We get to put weights on our feet and walk a stair. I get to make reservations for a theatre while having a bad hearing. We get to organize our pills in the right order. At one station, we need to open a door with a key while having shaking hands. These are just some of the things that we get to try. It’s impossible to explain how all of this is made – you need to experience it by yourself! But let us tell you that it works – it really works!
Listening to old peoples stories
Inside the room, there’s also a couple of booths where you can hear some people’s stories and learn more about their life. We didn’t get to hear them all but there was one that touched me so much that I got tears in my eyes (
ok I cried). An old woman said that she never had time to listen to her dad and that he kept calling her and she always made the calls short.
When she decided to take her time with her dad, it was too late – he passed away. We always try to appreciate life and our family and friends. Never take anyone for granted and enjoy life while it lasts. Easier said than done but if you remind yourself it’s not that hard. And it’s all about embracing aging and not fearing it. It’s nothing that you can stop but you can manage it to make your life comfortable.
Statistics about aging
The last part of the exhibition is more information about aging in Germany. A lot of fun facts and questions that we get to think about. Some examples: 63 percent of the people over 80 years don’t need assistance or help. It sounds amazing but the truth is that a lot of people are too proud to ask for help. If you are born today in Germany, you will live on average for 82 years. We are getting older and there is much more help to get than before.
In 1956 there were 100 people in Germany that were 100 years old. Then it was really special and the mayor used to visit the people and congratulate them. Today (2019) there are 18 000 people that are over 100 years old so it’s not that special anymore. Before exiting the exhibition, the Dialoghaus have some cute cards with ingredients for healthy aging.
9 ingredients for healthy aging – Dialoghaus
- Movement – Be active without thinking about it. Find activities you enjoy and make them a part of your day.
- Vegetables – No, you don’t need to become a vegetarian, but increase your intake of fruits and vegetables.
- Life Purpose – Why do you get up in the morning? New hobbies, intellectual or social engagement can make your day.
- Down Shift – Take time to relieve stress. You may have to literally schedule it into your day, but relaxation is the magic word.
- Family – Put loved ones first and make family a priority. It can be an anchor in difficult times.
- Hara Hachi Bu – Follow the Okinawa Diet “Hara hachi bu”. According to the Japanese, your life quality improves if you eat just enough so that your stomach is not completely full.
- Friends – The people surrounding you influence your health more than almost any other factor. Spend time with those who share a positive view about life and be likable.
- The Trophy – It’s never too late! See aging as an asset. Old age is a stage in life when you have a chance to develop your skills and interests.
- Love – Give tenderness a chance and feel more satisfied and physically well. Don’t be confused by people who think age and tenderness don’t go together.
Our most important insight from visiting Dialogue with time
We learned a lot from our 90 minutes at the Dialogue with time. But there was one thing that really stuck with us… Try to make your aging as smooth as possible. Don’t wait until something happens to make the changes. Let that sink in for a while! A lot of people stick to their routines and don’t make life simpler for them. For example our parents. Both of our families live in big houses and they don’t want to downsize even if the house is too big for them.
“We still have the energy”, Minis mom told me. And that’s the thing… Why do people wait until they don’t have the energy anymore? Isn’t it better to change and make life easier while you still have the energy?! Mini and I have talked a lot about how we want to age and one thing’s for sure – we want to make it easy and a smooth transition when we get older! So thank you Dialogue with time for teaching us so much about aging and giving us the tools to make it as good and easy as possible.
Dialogue in silence – Become deaf for one hour
The exhibition Dialogue in silence is super interesting and insightful. The thing that we both get impressed by here is how good you still can communicate even if you don’t use the spoken language. We get noise-canceling headphones and our guide for the hour is Tobias Schauenburg. He has been working at Dialoghaus for five years and got deaf when he was one year old. He is the one that gives us an insight into his life.
We are walking through several rooms and they have the coolest names ever! “Dance of the hands” is the room where we all stand in a circle and make shadow puppets. In the “Gallery of faces,” we express ourselves with the help of our faces. And at the “Play of Signs” room, we get the insight into how much you can tell with the help of your hands. Since Tobias can’t hear us, we are not speaking at all and still, we understand each other.
A peace sign can mean so much more
Our biggest “aha moment” comes when Tobias shows us the peace sign. If you turn your hand, it becomes the sign for scissors. If you turn the peace sign upside down you get the sign for walk. And then you can show the sign for smoking. And all of that is by just using two fingers in different ways. Another example is how two closed fists can become driving a car?! Tobias is super funny and he’s easy to understand.
In the “Forum of Figures,” we are put to a test. We are supposed to take instructions and recreate a picture using figurines. Ok, so our group didn’t do that great but it was still such a learning experience. Like I said before, we are so impressed by how well we understand what Tobias is showing us and it feels like life as a deaf person is a really good life. No, you can’t hear but you can still communicate with people. And keep in mind that deaf people are not automatically mute!
Asking the guide Tobias questions
At the end of the tour, we got to ask Tobias questions. To do that without spending too much time using sign language and trying to figure out how to ask different things – there is a translator that comes in. Laura Richter is speaking both German, English and sign language. We learn that the sign language has different dialects and that there is an “international” sign language that works all over the world. However, Tobias knows English too so he can travel the world without any problems.
This is when we find out that Tobias is completely deaf and that he has been that since he was one year old. He got a brain infection that left him deaf. Some of the people there are asking questions like “how do you wake up?” The answer is simple… he has a light or vibration that wakes him up. There are 200 different sign languages and we also learn that they have courses at the Dialoghaus for deaf people. What an awesome place! Thank you for inviting us to your world Tobias and the Dialoghaus.
Dialogue in the dark – losing your sight for 90 minutes
The most famous of the three exhibitions at the Dialoghaus is by far the “dialogue in the dark”. Here you will experience first hand how daily life is without the sense of sight. Our guide Mario R can only distinguish the difference between night and day – otherwise, he can’t see anything. While waiting for the tour to start we get to talking about blindness and the fear that people have about losing their sight. It’s said that this is one of the most difficult disabilities to accept, and I am first to say that I agree.
Some people say that it’s better to be born blind than to lose your eyesight gradually. It is said that some people can appreciate that they have had some time in their life when they could see but they also say that memories fade. They forget what the trees look like and after a while, it’s like they were born blind. Now, that’s what we heard and not anything that we can confirm but I believe that memories fade as you create new once.
Losing your sight at the Dialoghaus
Before the tour starts we need to leave all our loose items in a locker. Mini has to take his glasses off because, if you lose anything it’s gone forever – there are no lights that you can turn on, this is for real! So we take all our loose items off and go to Mario. When he gives us each a white cane that will help us, I get really nervous. Until now I have just been looking forward to learning more and getting more educated on how it is to get around without any eyesight. Now, when it’s time to start I am super nervous and almost a bit afraid.
And then everything goes completely black. It’s not dark – it’s pitch black! We can’t see anything. Mario tells us that we are going through a park. In the beginning, I am holding my other arm (the one that is not holding the cane) in front of my face. I’m afraid that I will hit something and bang my face. After a while, I decide that there is no logic in walking like that and I lower my arm. It’s scary because we are supposed to move forward but we can’t see anything. I can feel that I’m walking on grass when we enter the park but the terrain is uneven and there is so much noise going on around us.
Using other senses more
I always thought that if you lose one sense, others will become better. For example, if you lose your eyesight, you develop better hearing. That was my truth until I did an interview with a visually impaired man and I straight out told him that his hearing was better than the hearing of people that can see. His answer to me made me embarrassed for my ignorance because that’s just something that people say and think… The truth is that a blind person can not hear better than a seeing person.
The difference is that they use hearing more than us. People that can see rely mostly on their sight. A blind person needs to rely on hearing and touching a lot more. When he told me that it sounded so logical and I felt so bad for my ignorance. When doing the Dialogue in the dark, we noticed that Mario could hear very well. He called my name and when I answered, he said that I should go more to the left. “How do you know where I am, I asked”. Mario said that he can hear the echo from my voice and when it bounces on the wall, almost like the bats have their sonar, he compared it too.
Taking a boat ride, visiting a concert and more
We have been to the park and we have been inside a “regular house”. We’ve felt a car and we have found chairs and things that are usually in a home. We have been to a market and felt the different kinds of fruits and vegetables that are there. We have been on a boat ride where there was real water and we are now enjoying a concert. My eyes are closed. They have been closed during most of the visit. Every time I open them, I can’t grasp the fact that I can’t see anything – better to just keep them closed. The music is loud but at the same time very soothing and calming.
I lay down on a bench and realize that’s I have never enjoyed music more than I am doing right now. It’s the best place in the whole exhibition and this is also where I realize that I have not changed my way of thinking – rather the opposite. I’m now convinced that being blind is horrible and that you are missing out on life when you can’t see. It feels embarrassing to admit. I was hoping that this experience would show me that it’s not that bad – that life is great either way. Laying down on the bench, listening to music is the only time I’m feeling calm and relaxed.
Doing everything without your sight
The last thing I want to do is to disrespect the blind and the visually impaired. We believe that their life is just as good and fulfilled as anyone else’s but at the same time my fear of becoming blind is validated by this experience. I am sad about walking around the exhibition. I know that my sight will come back as soon as I get out of the room but the feeling is still so intense and hard to cope with.
I’m not the only one struggling. Mini is having a hard time too but his struggles are with all the noise. He is reacting to all the noise that is coming from the traffic, from playing children and from day to day life. We are crossing streets and the noise is all around us. This is Minis biggest problem – he can’t close his ears to all the noise. He needs to use it to navigate through the exhibition. To him, everything is too loud. For me, it’s the darkness that is the worst.
Visiting a bar without seeing
At the end of the experience, there is a visit to the bar. So now there is a new problem… how do you “see” the difference between the different coins without seeing? Actually, we had left our wallet in the locker before the experience – a tip is to bring a wallet. But we still got to order our drinks (we just paid later) and experience a visit to the bar.
There was one problem with visiting a bar in complete darkness… We were both afraid of letting go of the bottle. If we would let go of the bottle, we were afraid that we wouldn’t be able to find it again or we might knock over the bottle. At the Dialoghaus they also offer “dinner in the dark”. It’s one of the first places that opened and where you eat your meal in complete darkness. For the dinner in the dark, you need to make reservations a couple of days in advance and they only offer this on Thursdays and Fridays.
Cafe Schmidtchen Speicherstadt
No, this is not the “dinner in the dark” experience but it’s a cafe that’s located inside the building and where you can have a sandwich or cake and coffee before (or after) your experience. We were so excited to be visiting and learning at the Dialoghaus that we ended up being super early. And we had a great cup of coffee and a sandwich. There are a lot of great places to have a cup of coffee in Hamburg and even if this is not the best place – it’s still good.
And while visiting the cafe or the Dialoghaus – be sure to take a picture at the most photographed place in all of Hamburg. It’s right by the building and it’s a really nice place! Be sure to check it out!
Information about Dialoghaus
Address: Alter Wandrahm 4.
Opening hours: Monday to Friday: 09.00 – 18.00. Saturday 10.00 – 19.00. Sunday 10.00 – 17.00.
Ticket price: Dialogue with time: 1,50 € Dialog in silence: 17,50 € Dialog in the dark: 21,50 €. The prices are per adult. There are different packages too so check out what your best option is.
Website: Dialoghaus website in English.
While visiting the Dialoghaus – check out the Miniatur Wonderland as well.