On a short trip to Amsterdam last weekend, I visited Anne Frank House, somewhere which feels depressingly relevant to 2018 in a way I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. And while I am not a religious man, when I actually walked into the Secret Annex, where Anne hid with seven others for two years… it’s the closest I’ve ever felt to stepping into a sacred place.
I cannot hope to get across my feelings as I walked round the annex. But I want to just mention one thing that I found really striking.
As you enter the museum, you pick up an audio guide from the wall. You can either use your own headphones, or just stick the guide next to your ear. As you cross into the various rooms – and up some startlingly steep staircases – you scan the number on the wall, and off you go.
Except when you reach the Secret Annex. The entrance stands before you, hidden by a movable bookcase. And your audio guide calmly informs you… no, there won’t be any entries while you’re in the annex. You’re on your own. They’ll pick up again once you leave.
This does a number of things. It stops the perhaps slightly tasteless sight of a load of tourists walking around the annex with an audio guide jammed up against their ear. More importantly, it makes each visitor to stop, and actually experience the annex first hand, rather than zone out listening to someone else talk about it. It forces you to actually be there, in other words.
But subtly, it does something else. It says: this part of the museum is different. That it’s all very well walking around the rest of the house, half looking around, half listening to the audio guide… but the annex is special. This is not just another random part of a random museum, where data flaps unbidden into your mind.
And so, when you leave… it lingers.