Latest update: 30 November 2022
What is it like to go through life deaf? Or blind? In Hamburg, I experience it for a few hours at Dialoghaus. What an extraordinary experience! I am 200% convinced that you should go too.
Tours in the dark and in silence in Hamburg
When I’m looking for things to do in Hamburg, I come across the Dialoghaus. They offer tours called Dialogue in the Dark (Dialog im Dunkeln) and Dialogue in Silence (Dialog im Stillen). I immediately want to know what it’s all about. Years ago in Amsterdam, I ate at Ctaste, where you eat in the dark. The service staff is blind and guides you through the dining experience. They don’t tell you what you eat: you should guess. And that was embarrassing: I got almost nothing right (except the crackling sweets). Anyway, I thought that was special, so I have high hopes for the tours in Hamburg.
Tip! Are you looking for more activities in Hamburg? Then, read all about the sights per district.
Blind and deaf guides
The Dialog Haus is in the Speicherstadt district. While my best friend Patrick and I are taking pictures of the building in the rain (yes, this is also a perfect activity when it rains in Hamburg), some people arrive on their way to work. With a white cane. Although I know why I am here, it is only now that I realize what we will experience. And also that we will only experience it for a moment, but that these people are deaf or blind day in and day out.
Not that we should think they’re pathetic. Both our guides in the dark and the guide in the silence make this very clear to us. They focus on what they CAN do. Our blind guide even confides to me that he would rather be blind than deaf – being deaf sounds horrible to him. Pun intended.
Dialogue in the Dark
We do the tour in the dark with guide Andre who also speaks perfect English. I get a cane with a plastic ball at the bottom for safety so I don’t poke other people’s heels and step into the dark. And it’s pitch-black. I don’t see anything (which is precisely the idea), and I immediately lose all my orientation and certainty.
I stay close to the wall, say Patrick’s name regularly to ensure he’s still around, and follow Andre’s directions carefully. Guide Andre regularly takes my hand and points me to steps and doors. As a result, I feel safe but also very dependent. But, with Andre’s jokes, being blind suddenly becomes a fun adventure.
The tour in the dark takes us along a make-believe park with water, a living room, a traffic light, the market, and more. We even go sailing and order a drink in the dark. Patrick wants a coke but gets something else from the blind barmaid. Those bottles are simply indistinguishable from each other by touch.
Apart from following the tour’s challenges, I also discover tiny things I usually am unaware of. The sound of the gravel path I walk on, how I recognize an aubergine by its shape and structure, the sound of a busy street, how I can distinguish a 5 euro note from a 10 euro note… I suddenly experience those things very intensively.
I’m pretty curious about what the room looks like in the light. Andre regularly mentions that people constantly move in such a clumsy way through the space, even though he thinks it is huge. I’m still unsure if that’s true.
Tip! The Dialoghaus is part of my one-day itinerary for Hamburg. So check out what you can do in Hamburg in 1 day.
Dialogue in Silence
After the adventure in the dark, I continue to Dialogue in Silence. We get a pair of headphones that completely shut off all the sound around us. Then, guide Tobias takes us on a journey. At first, I think the tour is a bit childish: we make faces, look at each other’s facial expressions and make shadow shapes with our hands.
We play a game with gestures and animal pictures and have to make an arrangement of different figures in pairs, where I see the image of how it should be and transfer that with gestures to Patrick so that he replicates it. We fail big time. And suddenly, the penny drops for me. Childish?!? It’s the reality for Tobias. It’s super frustrating not being able to communicate with someone. If you don’t have a shared language, it’s a struggle to get by. You are limited to a facial expression and a hand gesture. Chances are pretty big that you don’t understand each other.
On the other hand, you can tell a lot about how someone is feeling from body language, and arranging simple things is also fine. You don’t need to know sign language for that. It only gets problematic when the “conversations” get more complicated; try discussing mortgage or your mental sanity.
We can also talk to Tobias for a while through an interpreter. I think that’s really cool and valuable because we have plenty of questions. We can ask anything we want. We learn about working with an interpreter, what issues he encounters, and that there is no universal sign language – I never knew!
Impressive visit in Hamburg
We talk about our visit for a long time, with each other and also when we get back home with friends. “Would you rather be deaf or blind?” It’s a question I still don’t want to think about, but I suddenly have an opinion thanks to the tours. I now have an idea of what that would be like and that it doesn’t mean the end of the world.
The Dialoghaus is so much more than a tourist attraction: it is about understanding the world of the deaf, blind, and partially sighted. That they are luckily increasingly becoming part of society. My image of what blind and deaf people go through has really changed. Now it’s your turn!
Would you like to visit DialogHaus Hamburg yourself?
You can reserve online. In addition to the tours in the dark and the silence, you can also dine in the dark or throw a children’s party.
Want more Germany inspiration?
Useful links for your Germany trip
- Travel guides. I love the practical guide books from Lonely Planet. You can buy them at Bol.com, Amazon, and Book Depository. The latter has longer delivery times but is often cheaper.
- Flights. Compare all your options! Transavia often has good deals, but definitely check out Momondo, Skyscanner, and Kiwi.
- Train and Bus Travel with NS International or FlixBus to Germany. And reserve bus seats with Busbud, 12Go or Omio. More local trains via Save a Train.
- Accommodation. All-time favorites: Booking.com, Natuurhuisje, and Airbnb. Or try BelVilla and Campspace. Would you rather stay in a hostel? Check Hostelworld.
- Activities. You book the best tours and activities with GetYourGuide and Viator. For tours with locals, go to WithLocals. ‘Free’ walking tours are available at Freetour.com and try Baja Bikes for bike tours.
- Attractions and museum. Interested in a 5% discount on museums and other attractions? Use this discount code at Tiqets: KIMOPREIS22
- Car rental. My go-to car rental companies are EasyTerra and Sunny Cars as they have all-inclusive / worry-free offers.
- Travel gear. Buy your gear at Bever or Decathlon, or simply at Bol.com.
- Package deals. Rather go on a catered trip? The Dutch among us can try: ANWB vakanties or Sawadee, or maybe Tui and Vakantie Discounter?
Or, try a yoga retreat.
Some of the links on this site are affiliate links. If you buy something through these links, I might receive a small commission – at no extra costs to you of course!
Note: I participated in the Dialogue in the Dark en Dialogue in Silence tours free of charge. I was free to write whatever I wanted about the Dialoghaus.
First published: March 2019. The article has been updated since.