Berlin uncovers “brutal” German colonization with two new museums

Berlin, Sep 20 (EFE) .- Berlin presented its state collections of ethnology and Asian art on Monday, a great cultural initiative from the era of Chancellor Angela Merkel, not without controversy for focusing on Germany’s colonial past and rethinking the controversial return of artistic objects to their countries of origin.

The new cultural complex Humboldt Forum already houses the collections of the museums of Ethnology and Asian Art, although due to the emphasis that those responsible for presenting them to the press two days before their official opening, they could even have as a subtitle “museum of “German colonialism.

Hermann Parzinger, the president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which owns the Berlin state museums of which those now opening are a part, made a solemn promise when commenting on the event: there is a “basic provision for restitution” .

His words are not a novelty, since, as far as this concept is concerned, Berlin already showed a few months ago that it intends to proceed with the return of pieces that were obtained in application of a clear strategy of looting by Germany in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

And it is that in April a calendar was agreed to return to Nigeria from 2022 those known as “Benin bronzes”, 400 of which are in the Berlin Ethnological Museum, which were looted by British forces in 1897 and ended up in various institutions international museums.

However, the Nigerian authorities demanded last July a “complete return” and not “substantial” -as previously agreed- of these bronzes, without subjecting to any condition the restitution of the pieces, which illustrates the controversial connotation that this concept can come to suppose for the new Berlin museums.


The collections, especially the African ones, display a selection of the pieces that their warehouses treasure with a frank description that speaks in some of their cartouches of the “brutal” subjugation that Germany practiced in Cameroon, Namibia and Togo.

Elsewhere in the exhibit it is proclaimed: “The outcome of German colonialism was disastrous. The colonized lost their independence and often their lives … the legacy of colonial rule affects Cameroon to this day.”

As an educational game, a desk presents, through a hypothetical interactive story, to future younger visitors a situation such as that faced by newcomers to the German colonies in Africa but with the question: “You, what would you have done in its place?”.


The heads of the museums assured the media that the provenance of all the pieces they have in their collections has been investigated, although they admitted that the analysis of the origins of the objects and the circumstances in which they came into German ownership cannot be closed because new information can always emerge.

Andrea Scholz, head of cross-cultural cooperation at the Humboldt Forum, acknowledged to Efe that this institution “is a complicated project because it has a lot of influence from politics, there are many people who decide, so it is not so easy.”

He considered that the declared arrangement of the new Berlin museums has behind “this idea of ​​serving a bit as an example for other museums in areas like the one in which I work, cross-cultural collaborations.”

Is that example aimed at making those responsible for other institutions, such as the British Museum, look at the provision for the restitution of such emblematic cases as the Parthenon marbles? In Scholz’s personal opinion, “you have to have a dialogue, it can’t be that they stay there forever.”

The one who will be the curator of the American collections, which will be exhibited at the Humboldt Forum from 2022, alluded to Parzinger’s promise to proceed as a basic policy of the house to the returns of objects but admitted that “many steps are needed for this to be achieved. come true. ”

The large construction that houses the museums has also been opening to the public step by step, as a result of the restrictions caused by the pandemic, accompanied by the controversy over the option chosen for the continent: a reproduction in the XXI century of an imperial palace of the century XIX.

The cost of the company has not been less, since there are about 650 million euros (around 760 million dollars) that for the moment has swallowed the construction of the building that forced the demolition of one of the symbols of the defunct Democratic Republic Alemana, the Palace of the Republic.

To that controversial decision – lamented by those who praised the virtues of that building, an emblem of part of recent German history – was added the controversy over the critical gaze with which the Humboldt Forum places on a dark period of the country just when they conclude, with uncertainty about things to come, 16 years of Merkel’s government.

By Javier Alonso


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