After two years of extensive renovation work the Museum of European Cultures reopens in Berlin

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After two years of extensive renovation work the Museum of European Cultures reopens in Berlin
Kiesewetter bei der Arbeit Kalmücken Öl auf Leinwand © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum Europäischer Kulturen, Foto: Ute Franz-Scarciglia.

BERLIN.- After two years of extensive renovation work, the Museum of European Cultures reopened this December and is again able to host exhibitions in Dahlem. Highlights will include:

• a permanent exhibition on the theme of 'Cultural Contacts - Life in Europe'
• a temporary exhibition entitled 'Explorations in Europe - Visual Studies in the 19th Century' and
• a study collection, with regularly rotating displays of groups of objects from the museum's collection.

The Museum of European Cultures was called into being in 1999 and was created by merging the 110 year-old Museum of European Ethnology (Museum für Volkskunde) with the European collection of the Ethnological Museum. It focuses on lifeworlds in Europe and European cultural contacts from the 18th century until today.

Comprising some 27,000 original objects, the museum houses one of the largest European collections of everyday culture and popular art. The topics covered by the collection are as diverse as the cultures of Europe themselves: ranging from weddings to commemorating the dead, the cult of Napoleon to Halloween, music on Sardinia, the historically pagan 'Perchten' processions in the Alps ... the list goes on and on.

The museum unveiled its new permanent exhibition, 'Cultural Contacts - Life in Europe', which forms a cross-section of its diverse collections and will be spread over 700 square metres of exhibition space. It tackles debates on social movements and social boundaries, for no matter where you are in the world, 'mobile' social patterns among people lead to cultural encounters, ties and mingling. Europe is an excellent example of this. Despite all their differences, Europeans have many things in common, which have arisen from many factors, ranging from cultural contacts to globalization. Besides the spread of knowledge through various forms of media, such factors primarily include encounters through trade, travel and migration, as well as missionary campaigns, war and reconciliation. With its many ties to Judaism and Islam, Christianity has decisively shaped Europe ever since the Middle Ages. The Age of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, industrialisation and the consequences of both World Wars are the key factors that continue to shape Europe today.

Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that many people in Europe are critical of what they perceive as increasing 'Europeanization' and globalization. A common reaction to such scepticism is the desire to return to one's 'own' culture, with its comforting sense of familiarity. Quite often such uncertainties are capitalized on for political gain, with theories expounded that a specific country or region is congruent with a 'homogeneous culture'. But in no way does this match up to reality - cultures can overlap with each other, cross over several regions or be translocal, even though there may well be cultural characteristics typical of a place, a region, or even a nation.

The temporary exhibition 'Explorations in Europe. Visual Studies in the 19th Century' will be on show until 8 April 2012. It picks up from the topic of cultural encounters featured in the permanent exhibition and highlights the journeys undertaken by several artists and scientists who wanted to become acquainted with and explore other cultures in the 19th century. Besides the collection of three-dimensional, original artefacts, the show also depicts these voyages of discovery through a selection of pictures, photographs and architectural models created to scale. One impressive example of such an expedition is highlighted here in the oil paintings and miniature buildings by the Berlin painter Wilhelm Kiesewetter, who in the mid-19th century spent 14 years travelling extensively through North and Eastern Europe. At this point in time photography was still in its infancy, but developed rapidly, with the result that scientific photography soon replaced detailed drawings and pictures, or at least augmented them.

The study collection, now on show to the public for the first time, sees groups of objects on display in a comparative, cross-cultural presentation that has its roots in the collection's research-based tradition - a legacy of the Museum für Volkskunde, the institution that preceded it. For approximately half a year, starting on the 9 December 2011, the study collection will feature a display on the culture of childhood as seen through various kinds of toys, all taken from the museum's own rich fund of objects. The reopening will see the Dahlem cluster of museums reclaim their European collections, with the building designed by Bruno Paul once again becoming an important address that reunites European and non-European collections under one roof.

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