The Arctic winds blowing through London are so forceful you might think the Cold War is back, writes GORDON PRENTICE, especially as Vladimir Putin’s ancient warships and bombers flirt with Britain’s eastern seaboard
A visit to the Imperial War Museum in November ahead of Armistice Day makes you aware that a jumper and overcoat – along with a beanie and scarf – are essential to combat the elements, but a visit to this museum will blow you away in more ways than one. Upon arrival, prepare to have your backpack searched. As long as your bag does not contain anything sharp, you will soon be on your way to explore the sights.
The ground level is magnificent with a Harrier jump jet and a World War II Spitfire hanging from the roof. Unless you are fit enough to climb hundreds of stairs, go to the lifts, start at the top floor and make your way down.
Even inside the warmth of the museum, a number of exhibits will chill you to the bone. The Holocaust exhibit on level four will reduce even the hardiest of souls to tears. The SS uniforms, videos of Dr Joseph Goebbels spouting fascist hatred and Adolf Hitler ranting at a mass rally in Nuremberg will soon move you down to the next level.
Not that the exhibit on the Cold War is any more pleasant. Images of the atomic bomb tests will leave you frozen to the spot. That said, seeing Soviet and American communication systems in briefcases lighten the mood a little and you can have your picture taken next to a section of the old Berlin Wall.
An exhibit on the War on Terror by the brilliant photographer Edmund Clark gives a fascinating insight into life inside the prison at Guantanamo Bay. One of the masterminds of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, is still there. There are also a number of captivating transcripts of interviews of “victims” of extraordinary rendition (where terrorist suspects are flown to various parts of the world to be interrogated by Western and Middle East intelligence agents). Shock and awe indeed.
However, it is the extensive World War exhibits that take pride of place at the Imperial War Museum listing all the famous battles in depth. The ingenious gadgets of the Special Operations Executive will mean you will spend more time in that section than you do on the Sunday crossword.
We made our way to the restaurant where a slice of pizza cost an eye-popping £4.50 (about R72). However, shelling out a fiver for a slice doesn’t seem so bad when you consider there is no entrance fee to the museum. The “fully-loaded” cheeseburger with a mountain of chips for £8.70 (R140) was the best burger I had tasted in years.
With the huge number of exhibits having provided food for the brain, there are a few practicalities to consider before setting out.
- You will need a good pair of walking shoes. Due to extensive renovations, Lambeth North tube station is closed, meaning it’s now a brisk 10-minute walk from the underground stations at Waterloo or Elephant & Castle.
- Many exhibits make for unpleasant viewing and then you have brace yourself for information overload. If you decide to visit during term time, a box of headache tablets may become paramount. Unruly schoolchildren lower the sanctity of this dedication to the dead and seem to pay little attention to any of the exhibits.
- Most importantly, decide if you really want to go. You need a strong constitution. If not, plenty of art museums in and around the capital will provide just as much insight into the history of Britain.
If you do go, you will come away with a better understanding of the lives your parents, grandparents or great-grandparents went through in horrific times. If you are a history or military buff, that visit increases ten-fold in importance.by