Autumn 2021. In theory we could travel to other continents, but destinations we had in mind such as Japan or the United Kingdom were impossible to plan ahead. Instead we organised a rail trip to Eastern Europe, travelling to Berlin, Gdańsk, Wrocław, Karlovy Vary, Pilsen, Bratislava, Poprad, Vienna, Linz and Salzburg. By travelling to Germany, Poland, Czechia, Slovakia and Austria, we explore an area which was in the (not too distant) past bonded together by the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and by Austria-Hungary.
The Humboldt Forum in the Berlin Palace or Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss is a museum of non-European art on the Museum Island or Museuminslel in the historic centre of Berlin. Named in honour of the Prussian scholars Wilhelm and Alexander von Humboldt, it combines three rebuilt baroque façades of the former Royal Palace, a contemporary exterior overlooking the Spree river and a modern interior designed by Franco Stella.
The Humboldt Forum mainly houses the non-European collections of the Berlin State Museums, temporary exhibitions and public events. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it opened digitally on 16 December 2020 and became accessible for the general public on 20 July 2021.
History as a museum
The Humboldt Forum incorporates two former museums, the Ethnological Museum of Berlin and the Museum of Asian Art. Both had their roots in the Ancient Prussian Art Chamber.
The Ancient Prussian Art Chamber was originally established by Joachim II Hector, Elector of Brandenburg in the mid 16th century, but was nearly destroyed during the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648). The art chamber was rebuilt as a magnificent collection by Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg, and was moved to the newly extended Berlin Palace by Frederick I of Prussia in the early 18th century.
The Ethnological Museum opened in 1886 as a successor of the Ancient Prussian Art Chamber; the Museum of Asian Art originated as the Indian Department of the Ethnological Museum in 1904. Wilhelm von Bode, the Director-General of the Royal Museums in Berlin, established the Museum of East Asian Art as a separate collection in 1906. In 2006 the Museum of Indian Art and the Museum of East Asian Art were merged to form the Museum of Asian Art.
Deutsche Welle made a documentary about the Forum’s history. It’s not uncontroversial. For the building itself, the location and for the collection.
Danny and I chose to visit two exhibitions. The first being ‘Berlin Global‘.
“Past, present and future: much of what happens in Berlin has an impact on the world. And much of what happens in the world affects Berlin. ‘Berlin Global’ shows how the city and its people are connected with the world. Visitors start in a room called ‘Thinking the World‘ and move on to an introductory space entitled Berlin Images”, the exhibition is introduced.
“Rooms with individual themes then follow: ‘Revolution’, ‘Free Space’, ‘Boundaries’, ‘Entertainment’, ‘War’, ‘Fashion’ and ‘Interconnection’. These aspects also feature in other metropolises, but the constellation captures the essence of the city.”
“Rich in variety and full of surprises, the immersive installations and atmospheric presentations invite visitors into these realms and the underlying diversity of Berlin. We let those who know the city speak: residents, experts, artists, initiatives and associations. Their stories, experiences and perspectives energise the exhibition.”
‘Berlin Global’ is indeed very interactive, very contemporary, very woke. Visitors het to vote on some topics regarding society and diversity. I particularly appreciated the ‘Boundaries’ section. For instance: are we, tourists, a blessing or a curse?
‘Berlin Global’ is well conceived and worth your time. It will need regular updates though, I fear.
The exhibition offers everyone a wealth of experience. Much of the content is conveyed in twelve languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, German Sign Language (GSL), Italian, Japanese, Polish, Russian, Spanish and Turkish). In some of the exhibition media and to a greater extent in the media guide.
All areas are accessible to prams, wheelchairs and wheeled walkers. A tactile, high-contrast floor guidance system provides orientation. A visitor guide with audio description is also on offer.
The Palace cellar or Schlosskeller gives an insight on the site’s history.
“This is where you will find surviving sections of the medieval Dominican monastery as well as the foundations of the Berlin Palace, which were excavated in 2008.In the winding corridors you can discover everything from a chicken coop to the imperial heating system, which was highly technologically advanced for its time. All these finds shed light on the lives and work of the monastery’s residents and the palace’s servants.”
This was quite underwhelming, honestly.