The next decade will see the emergence in the historical heart of Berlin of a unique centre for art, culture, science, and learning with significant global reach. It will be entirely dedicated to the dialogue between the cultures of the world and will act as a forum for debate and analysis of historical and current issues of global significance, viewed from a multitude of fresh perspectives.
In the soon-to-be reconstructed Berlin Palace, museum, library, university, and event venue will merge to create a thriving meeting point for people from all over the world – irrespective of their origin, age, educational background, interests, experience, and personal tastes. This meeting-point and melting-pot will be the Humboldt Forum. The Forum will be a testing ground for new forms of collaboration, a place that will bring to life an array of cultural and social forms of expression, where scientific working methods will be cemented with artistic ones, and where history will come alive in the present. The Humboldt Forum will make a vital contribution to deciphering the globalized world in which we live. It aims to raise questions that are simmering below the surface as well as to search for ways to solve them. One of the Forum’s further concerns will be to highlight economic and ecological developments in the global society and show what tasks lie ahead in shaping them, be it in the world of politics, the economy, or culture. In keeping with the two brothers from whom its name is derived – Wilhelm and Alexander von Humboldt – this place will stand as a living symbol of the respectful and equitable cohabitation between the cultures and nations of the world.
With their open-mindedness, worldliness, and willingness to explore uncharted ground, the brothers Wilhelm and Alexander von Humboldt perfectly encapsulate the ethos that pervades the Humboldt-Forum.
The choice of name for the Forum is inspired by the thirst for learning and spirit of discovery that drove both brothers. As a Prussian politician in Berlin, Wilhelm (1767–1835) played an active role in the foundation of the university and museums. The Berlin University that he cofounded in 1810, known today as the Humboldt-Universität, embodied his ideal of a union between research and teaching in all disciplines. In addition he made a pioneering study of the structure of non-European languages. Alexander (1769–1859) set off as a young man to conduct seminal research on the American continent. He travelled down little-known rivers and climbed the Chimborazo in the Andes, thought to be the highest mountain in the world at the time. The critical assessment of this journey was to occupy him for the rest of his life and brought him international fame. He was even celebrated by some as the ‘true discoverer of America’ (Simon Bolivar). In his most important work ‘Cosmos’, he attempted to present an overall view of nature and the multitudinous relationships between humankind and its environment. He was also one of the few figures of his day to publicly rail against racism and slavery.
The Humboldt-Forum will rekindle some of the ideas behind the Berlin Kunstkammer (cabinet of art) that was housed on the site – by being a place of inquiry into the world and where art and science creatively intertwine.
In the 16th century a new phenomenon arose in many European royal courts: the Kunstkammer and Wunderkammer or 'cabinet of art and marvels' which aimed to unite all elements in the world in the microcosm of a collection. Objects from local and foreign cultures were divided into the categories of naturalia, scientifica, and artificialia, but were also sometimes arranged and handled more freely. The Berlin Palace was no exception to this development and artefacts of both local and non-European origin were placed on display in an area covering several rooms. They included objects from the natural world, from art and science, and historical artefacts. It was hoped that visitors to the royal cabinet of art would gain a deeper understanding of the world as a whole by being able to view, arrange, and handle the various objects gathered there. The collection was simultaneously an archive and a space for ideas. Crucial to this philosophy was Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s idea of a 'theatre of knowledge', which he devised with an eye to the Kunstkammer in the Berlin Palace. For Leibniz, the cabinet of art, laboratory-like in character, offered near utopian possibilities to generate and disseminate knowledge. In the 19th century, cabinets of art were handed over to public use, forming part of museums or university study collections.