Sunday, 26 April 2015

Dialogue in the Dark

This weekend my boyfriend visited me in Hamburg, and we had quite a unique experience which I was saving for when he was here. Those of you who have visited or lived in Hamburg may have already heard of Dialog im Dunkeln, an exhibition which is completely in the dark. The idea is to experience a day in the life of a blind person, and, if you'll excuse the pun, the 90 minutes spent in the exhibition was truly eye-opening.

I first heard about the exhibition from a friend, and it sounded so unique and exciting that I knew I had to do it before I leave Hamburg. But I never imagined it would be difficult. At the start of the tour, for which we were put into a group of eight, we were given blindmen's sticks and told the rules. We were to be led through a series of completely dark rooms by a blind or partially sighted person, and each room represented a scenario one would encounter from day to day. And when I say dark, I mean dark. We couldn't even see our hands in front of our eyes.

Our guide was a lovely partially sighted lady called Friederike, who nine times out of ten knew who we were, either by smell or sound. We exchanged names in the dark, and then we were led into the first room which was laid out like a park. I didn't expect the panic during my first five or ten minutes in the dark, and I can now understand why not everyone can go through with it. With my sight removed, my senses took a few minutes to adjust, and I was terrified of tripping or walking into something, or else hurting someone with my stick. True, we all walked into each other at some point or other, and I even wound up walking into someone's back nose-first, but I gradually got used to using the stick and my free arm effectively, and especially my hearing. After the park, in which we had to cross a bridge (more difficult than I could have ever imagined), we passed through a coffee storeroom, a market place, crossed a road and even rode on a ferry. My favourite part was the market place, in which we were allowed to pick up and smell various fruit and vegetables and guess what they were.

At the end of the tour, we were led into a bar where we could buy a drink or some sweets. The barman who served me knew exactly what change to give me, and he even gave me the right colour straw I asked for (it was red, and I kept it to make sure, in case you were wondering!) Then Friederike led us to a table and we were all allowed to ask her questions. I was most impressed at the end, however, when my boyfriend and I managed to lose our group amongst the rest of the tour groups who had accumulated in the bar. We could both tell that the voices around us did not belong to our group, and we recognised Friederike immediately when she came back to collect us. It's amazing how much sharper our remaining senses became after just 90 minutes in the dark!

I knew that re-entering the light would be painful, but despite the gradual lighting, the sensation was much more uncomfortable than I had expected. But thankfully, after a few minutes, we were able to see normally again and signed the guest book. It was also nice to put faces to the names and the voices of the rest of our group, as we had introduced ourselves in the dark!

If you are ever in Hamburg or somewhere with a similar exhibition, I definitely recommend this amazing experience. I have such an improved understanding of what blind and partially sighted people go through that I will never take my sight, nor any other of my senses for granted again.

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