On a windy and cloudy Sunday I took a trip to northern Jakarta. My destination was an area known as Kota Tua, which translates to Old Town. This part of Jakarta is an area in which many older buildings that were built during the Dutch colonial age are still (mostly) standing. This area is also home to some places of historic interest. One of these is the Museum Bank Mandiri, which is located nearby the Kota Tua train station.
Sometimes I feel I may be too critical in my comments on places I visit in Indonesia. I don’t really mean to be like that, but I cannot help the feeling that many places of interest in Indonesia, be it cultural or historical, have a lot much more potential in education and preservation than they currently have. This same feeling bubbled up during a visit to Museum Bank Mandiri, which opened in 1998 and is a museum dedicated to all things banking and other random things.
Entrance fee to the Museum Bank Mandiri was IDR 5,000, which is very modest. I hope the money would be spent on preservation and maintenance of the historic building, but I’m not convinced of that. Anyway, the one thing that is amazing about this museum is the building itself. It is beautiful, classic, huge, and it oozes history. It was built in 1933 and housed the Netherlands Trading Society (Nederlandsche Handel-Maatschappij) for some time. Later on, the building served as a bank. Its main hall is large and epic, with huge pillars and long desks decorating the central area. You can only imagine how busy it must have been during its prime, with people hustling and bustling all over the place.
Unfortunately, the problems of the museum appear when you move further away from the main hall. The less prominent rooms and hallways are dusty, moldy, and gloomy. Obviously less care has gone into these rooms. Which is really a shame as I think that these rooms could be amazing if they were fixed up.
Another problem for me was the display of items, which did not really make much sense. Electronic machines such as copiers, computers, telephones, televisions, and calculators are spread over one of the wings of the museum. Some items are accompanied with some minimal text, while others have no context attached to it at all and overall all the items feel so random. There is hardly a theme or story, and again, everything is covered under layers of dust. If something is not dusty, it will probably be creepy instead. One example of this are the weird, broken, and unsettling human-sized dolls that are scattered around the museum.
You may descend into the lower levels of the building where the various vaults were located, but again, you will only be greeted by layers of dust and dirt. It’s very disappointing as these lower levels could be so made much more amazing and interesting.
All in all, the main hall is quite nice and I would recommend a short visit if you happen to be nearby, but my overwhelming feeling is that it has so much more potential to be a museum of serious significance that could educate Indonesians and foreigners alike about parts of the Indonesian heritage. Raise the entrance fee a little bit if needed, because it will be such a loss if such a classical building will be lost due to a lack of care and maintenance.