HomeLifestyleFull Humboldt Forum opens in Berlin

Full Humboldt Forum opens in Berlin

The eastern wing, the last section of the Humboldt Forum Museum to be completed, is finally inaugurated. Highlights of the presentation are Benin bronzes, considered looted art.

“The Benin Bronze are an active part of our ancestors, It’s like you’d ask me what my relationship was to my father,” Kate Akhadelor said of the valuable Nigerian pieces. The museum teacher went from Nigeria to Berlin a month ago to help set up the exhibition with her colleague Joseph Elong. had come.

Benin bronze There are artifacts made of bronze, brass or ivory, which are part of a new exhibition at the Humboldt Forum.

Read also: Suspended sculpture transforms Cape Town Museum’s atrium

“Ever since we came here, we have been working tirelessly to interpret artefacts by looking at their meaning, function and use, and to create history and culture. The Benin Empire makes sense to the people,” Along told DW.

The past years saw intense debate about whether bronze could be exhibited, as the brutal acquisition of artifacts is well documented.

They were confiscated in 1897 during a punitive campaign by British colonial forces from the King’s Palace in Benin City in present-day Nigeria. Then in the early 20th century, the pieces were auctioned off in London and many arrived in Germany, which has the second largest collection of Benin bronzes in the world.

There have been many demands for the return of bronze, which had mostly fallen in Europe in the deaf years, although with the reconstruction of the Berlin Palace, which houses the Humboldt Forum, the debate around restoration intensified.

Benin bronze is borrowed

Finally, the restoration process picked up pace. The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, whose collection is being displayed at the Forum, transferred the property rights to its 512 items to Nigeria. Instead of the 220 items initially on display, only 40 pieces will be shown to the public.

In 10 years, the loan contract will expire and need to be renegotiated with Nigeria. Abba Isa Tijani, director of Nigeria’s National Museum Commission, says it is a milestone. “It’s the only way we can really work together. Three of our experts are here together to help shape the exhibition. In return, they benefit from the experience of their European partners.”

It sounds too good to be true: knowledge exchange, collaboration and reorganization. And that too after a year-long battle that centered around the architecture of the Prussian Palace, rebuilt in the same style as it was during Germany’s colonial rise.

Destroyed in WWII, the palace was torn down by the former East German government and rebuilt as the so-called Palace of the Republic. After the wall collapsed, it was unclear what would happen to the structure.

But when it was decided that the old palace in the center of Berlin would be rebuilt, there was criticism from all sides: too expensive, too pompous, too old.

A palace in the center of Berlin

With the opening of the East Wing on 16 September 2022, Germany’s currently most expensive cultural project, costing €680 million ($679 million), has been completed.

The opening was delayed by more than two years, partly due to the pandemic. In December 2020 only digital visits were possible. In the spring of 2021, the courtyards were made accessible and in the summer and autumn of the same year temporary exhibitions and some pieces from non-European collections were opened.

“It is a great moment in the history of this place, but we are not done yet,” says Hartmut Dörgerloh, general director of the Humboldt Forum. He explains that the Forum defines itself as a forum for global dialogue. It is not a museum, he says, but is actually a platform that gives people the possibility to exchange and work together on projects. It is an ongoing process, during which one seeks to focus on the future and address topics such as migration and climate change.

Exhibitions in 40,000 square meters

In addition to artifacts from sub-Saharan Africa, exhibits include those from Asia, Oceania, the Americas, and Berlin.

The abundance of exhibitions is overwhelming, especially because the showcases sometimes seem overcrowded. Even the change from room to room and thus from continent to continent raises the question: how could all these things possibly come to Berlin?

In the early 20th century, there was a race among European ethnographic museums to collect art from outside Europe, and many of the exhibits in the Forum thus come from former European colonies.

Another question that came up was: Were all these things acquired through illegitimate means? Not all, many.

In many cases the origin – the origin of the objects and how they landed in Berlin – is not easy to trace.

It is not common that collections were voluntarily sold to Europe to save them from destruction. But it happened in the US with a trove of artifacts from Omaha.

Pierre Elmer Merrick is a descendant of Omaha tribe ethnologist Francis La Flesch, who between 1894 and 1897 sold a collection of about 60 objects related to his culture to the Ethnographic Museum in Berlin.

The exhibition entitled “We talk. You listen” presents these items. “Those were very dangerous times for Native Americans in America,” Merrick told DW.

The objects in this exhibition are one of their kind in the world. For Merrick, it was a special moment to hold these items in his hands, some of which are sacred. Asked if he felt he had been heard, as the title of the exhibition suggests, he said, “The team (at the Humboldt Forum) was ready to listen to us.”

The collection also includes a pipe that was considered too sacred to be shown in public. It was removed from the exhibition. Now, Merrick hopes he can take it to America one day.

In Berlin, the reopening of the completed Humboldt Forum on 16 September is a landmark event, but there are still many stories hidden behind the renovated Baroque palace façade.

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