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The German Historical Museum Aims for an Open View of the Past (June 2, 2006)

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During the subsequent tour of the two-story exhibition, the chancellor wasn’t the only one overwhelmed by the approximately 8,000 exhibits in an overall space of 7,500 square meters – from the completely “armored” knightly steed with rider to the uniform of Friedrich II, from an anti-aircraft gun to Dürer’s portrait of Charlemagne, from a medieval gold coin to the wash basin of a working-class family around 1900, from sparingly deployed film and video installations to an original handcart, the kind used by expellees from the former Eastern part of the German Reich as they fled towards the West.

It is impossible to even begin to convey the diversity of the exhibited objects, which are arranged in rough chronological order and accompanied by brief texts in German and English, organized according to historical epoch and, not least, put into their European context.

The spatial arrangement is generous and makes sense, even if the abundance and attractiveness of the objects tempts at least the hurried visitor to wander about in a confused zigzag.

A few critics have decried the “conceptual restraint” and “interpretive reluctance” of “museum cases arranged like a construction set,” and, like FAZ feuilleton editor Patrick Bahner, they speak rather derogatorily of a spectacle “devoid of deeper meaning and mystery,” one that is, in the final analysis, nothing more than a “walkable school textbook.” The smug conclusion: “The well-ordered positivism of the German Historical Museum may be counted as a democratic achievement.”

Thus the aristocrat of the mind speaks about “a people that no longer wants to be disturbed by its history.”

We understand.

While some are indulging in their hollow patriotism, others are thirsting for a philosophy of history, for the great transcendental accomplishment. And in the middle of all of this is the museum. It invites you to stroll, to look and wonder, to read and think, relaxed and yet full of curiosity.

Source: Reinhard Mohr, “It’s done!” [“Es ist vollbracht!”], Spiegel Online, June 2, 2006.,1518,419500,00.html

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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