Museums before moving to the humboldt forum: a big sweep in dahlem

Before the Ethnological and Asian Museums close for good on January 8, 2017, Dahlem is going all out with a Long Weekend.

Hermann Parzinger, president of the SPK, looks at a Nulis mask in Dahlem Photo: DPA

There was a time in the 1980s when even die-hard West Berliners dutifully made their Sunday excursions to the southwest of the city. They went to Dahlem to the Ethnological Museums and the Museum of Asian Art to see fairytale exhibitions and collections from China, Laos, the South Seas, Africa and America. And those who hadn’t yet worn themselves out stopped by the Gemaldegalerie or took a breath of fresh air in the Grunewald before heading back toward Kreuzberg. What were the excursions adapted and bourgeois.

Gift! Sure, the Dahlem museums were part of the West Berlin educational canon. But they were also cult, places of enlightenment, of world cultures – and islands for a multicultural alternative. Until after the fall of the Wall, the museums attracted more than a million visitors a year. Fewer visitors came when the Old Masters Picture Gallery moved to the Kulturforum in 1998. In recent years, there have been just under 110,000 visitors – and the trend is downward since it was decided that the non-European collections would be moved to the controversial Stadtschloss.

In the middle of the relocation schedule of the Ethnological and Asian Museum to the Humboldt Forum, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (Stiftung Preubischer Kulturbesitz, SPK) is organizing something like a final museum sweep weekend from January 6 to 8, 2017. Final dance of death would probably be a more appropriate title. After the weekend, the houses on Lansstrabe will close down for good.

The foundation places a lot of emphasis on this finale – as if it wanted to make up for something at the recently neglected location. Much of what has not been dismantled or stowed away, such as the famous Oceanic houses and boats, will be presented for the last time "on the remaining space available," as Hermann Parzinger, president of the SPK, emphasized when presenting the collection program. This will not be very little, as the Dahlem collection consists of more than 500,000 objects and writings.

A final course

After the destruction of the war and the division of the city, Berlin’s former Ethnological Museum moved to Dahlem in 1967 and into the new buildings from 1973.

From Friday, January 6, through Sunday, January 8, the museums will offer an expanded exhibition and educational program with guided tours, lectures, talks, and workshops. Open daily until 8 p.m.

After Jan. 8, 2017, the Ethnological and Asian Museum will move to the future Humboldt Forum.

Even during the relocation, parts of the non-European collections will be housed from 2017 at the Cultural Forum and at the Bodemuseum will be exhibited. Among them: "Chinese Portrait Painting of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1912)."

The Museum of European Cultures will remain in Dahlem. (rola)

On the three closing days, the SPK plans to focus especially on the exhibits from Africa and the archaeological and decorative arts showpieces from China and Japan. In addition, there will be the ceramics from Korea as well as the famous rudiments from the ancient Buddhist temple city of KoCo.

Don’t you have to take one last walk through the long glass exhibition hall with the huge Cozumalhuapa stelae from Guatemala and other stone objects from pre-Hispanic cultures? One must! And shouldn’t one descend into the dark chambers of Arabia, where gold, silver and precious stones flash. That too! Exhibition talks, curator tours, opening hours until 8 p.m., Japanese tea ceremonies and the program of the Museum of European Cultures frame the final days, Parzinger enthuses.

Certainly, the worlds of the Aztecs, Persia or the Kingdom of Benin will not perish with the caesura in Dahlem. Until the reopening in 2019 in Mitte, many exhibits will be on display in special shows. But the contrast with the Humboldt Forum and Neil MacGregor’s "multi-perspective concept" will become incisive from 2019. The fantastic Dahlem museum world was its own.

Small museum remains

Interestingly, there is now wistfulness among the main people involved in the move after all. When he visited the museums in the 1970s, recalls Klaas Riutenbeek, director of the Asia Department, he was "totally blown away." "There was nothing as beautiful as this in Holland." Shortly before, Fritz Bornemann had realized the modern museum complex behind the historic old building on Arnimallee, consisting of staggered cubes and glass bodies – a revolution in museum architecture at the time.

Until the reopening in 2019 in Mitte, many exhibits will be on display in special shows

"Dahlem isn’t closing, it’s changing," also states Michael Eissenhauer, head of the National Museums in Berlin. Which is partly true, because the small Museum of European Cultures is staying behind. Director Elisabeth Tietmeyer sees this "as a challenge" and wants to transform the house into a "place of encounter" with new ideas. Will that succeed?

The plans for the future of the site do not sound very clear: although the "Market of Continents" will remain, "we do not have a coordinated plan for the long-term future of the space," admits Parzinger. For the time being, the vacated halls will be used as depots. It is unclear whether the space will be sold, renovated and repurposed.

The only thing that is clear is that one of Berlin’s most important decentralized cultural locations – for whose preservation there would have been good reasons – will go out of business this weekend. Therefore: Out to Dahlem!

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