The Humboldt Universität aims to use the Humboldt Forum to cast the spotlight on science and make tangible to the general public the full extent to which science is a core component of our culture.
The university will have 1000 square metres of exhibition space at its disposal to hold rotating exhibitions and events that will give visitors a vivid sense of the role science plays in each of our everyday lives. The exhibition’s underlying thrust will be on scientific methods of inquiry and insight, in short the methodical aspect behind the acquisition of new findings and new knowledge. Conversely, the university aims to demonstrate how researchers from diverse fields apply scientific procedures in their everyday work, be it in the lab, on expeditions, or in archives. The exhibition will also highlight the kinds of questions that researchers around the world tackle by working together in a global conversation. Far from being a showcase of headline-grabbing scientific achievements, the exhibition will instead set stock in exposing methodologies and knowledge processes applied in the scientific practice of past and present, and all the controversies, speculation, errors, and limits that this necessarily entails. To help convey these structural processes, the university is devising experimental forms of presentation and display that will include the possibility of featuring objects from the university’s own collections. The university will also use the Humboldt Forum to present its Lautarchiv: a collection of historical recordings of the ‘voices of the world’.
Library for non-European art and cultures
The libraries of the Ethnologisches Museum and the Museum für Asiatische Kunst, currently housed as two separate entities at their location in Dahlem, will merge to form a major specialist library dedicated to non-European art and cultures.
Some 150,000 volumes will be housed on the first floor of the Humboldt-Forum, in addition to the space set aside for the Humboldt-Universität and the Zentral- und Landesbibliothek. A specific area of convergence will be texts on contemporary non-European art. The public reference library will largely consist in a spacious, open-shelf user area. It will include a gallery in the reading area, a group work room, and several small learning studios for audio-visual media. The library facilities will also include offices for visiting scholars. The museums’ library in the Humboldt-Forum will fall under the administrative responsibility of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s Kunstbibliothek.
The Ethnologisches Museum is a museum of cultural history, art and ethnography. It offers visitors the chance to embark on an inspirational voyage around the globe, one that promises to open up new perspectives on the past and present cultures of Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia, and Polynesia.
The Ethnologisches Museum will be given an enormous space (some 10,000 square metres in all) to showcase the array of historical artefacts from its collection together with its large holdings of photographs, film and audio recordings. The exhibition will consist in several modular units giving curators a great degree of flexibility, allowing them, for example, to integrate swiftly new research findings into the presentation or seize upon current social questions relating to exhibition content. The Ethnologisches Museum aims to use its display to scrutinize and critically assess the legacy and consequences of colonialism and Europe’s part in it. It also aims to show how globalization, the interconnectedness of continents, is far from a modern-day phenomenon but dates back centuries, if not millennia. In multiethnic capitals such as Berlin, people from all continents live together. As a result, such concepts as ‘the central’ and ‘the peripheral’ now have to be revised and redefined. The museum’s mission is to arouse ongoing interest in interaction and intercultural encounters and to promote a deeper understanding among the peoples of the world.
Berlin’s Museum für Asiatische Kunst will use the Humboldt-Forum to present selected works from its collection while simultaneously outlining the social context in which they emerged and juxtaposing them with contemporary art from around the world.
The museum’s rich collection of over 30,000 Asian art and craft objects dating from the 5th millennium BCE up to the present day includes East-Asian paintings, prints, lacquer objects and ceramics, the art of the Silk Road, Tibetan and Southeast-Asian art, ancient Indian sculptures, and Indian paintings. The museum will present large and frequently changing selections of its treasures in its new exhibition space of over 5,000 square metres in the Humboldt-Forum. In addition to innovative display techniques, the museum will also feature study collections accessible to users on-site. The displays highlight the artistic quality of individual works and stylistic relationships between them, placing the artists in their wider context and archaeological and craft objects in their original cultural setting. The curators also aim to emphasize larger regional trends and interrelationships, such as how South-Asian and East-Asian art mutually influenced each other via the conduit of Central Asia, or the significance of Asian art, especially contemporary Asian art, seen from an international perspective. Far from acting as a mere window on a far-away, foreign world, the museum will become a place where visitors can actively engage and interact with Asian art – with its past and present, with its familiar and unfamiliar aspects, and its ever growing importance in today’s and tomorrow’s world.
The architectural design of the main access point to the palace will be expansive and inviting. Future visitors will be greeted by an impressive entrance hall that will direct them on their way through the Humboldt-Forum. This is where information and tickets can be obtained, where people meet up and are seen. But the entrance area is more than this: it’s a place that prepares visitors for the voyage of discovery and experience on which they are about to embark. Based on the principle of the historical Kunstkammer, (cabinet of art), it presents a fascinating glimpse into the richness of this world.
The entrance hall is the beating heart, the point to which all things in the building gravitate. The space’s overwhelming height gives visitors a taste of the scale of the historical palace. The space is set to become a sheltered meeting place, accessible to everyone, Berliners and international guests alike, where the Humboldt-Forum’s sense of hospitality, inspiration, and vitality will be demonstrated in a surprising and engaging way. Display screens show what’s currently on offer at the Forum and feature an enticing array of topics, passions, artworks, and everyday life experience, all firmly rooted in the here and now. The spacious galleries that circle around and above and that stretch over three separate floors provide the stage for a display that aims to rekindle the spirit of the cabinets of art of past centuries through the array of its diverse objects and installations. This will be the site where developments in the history of ideas will be singled out and brought to life to show how their effects reverberated through the centuries and helped shape our present day. While the Kunstkammer aimed to present the world in microcosm, the Forum will be a modern-day macrocosm of the world. No longer fuelled by the dry collection of strange curiosities and rare objects, it will instead thrive from the testaments of a process of exchange that has evolved over centuries and an equitable dialogue between the cultures of the world.
History of the site
The palace and the palace square (Schlossplatz) look back at a long and at times turbulent history. The Humboldt-Forum will uncover the traces of the site’s past in the Gallery of the Site’s History and the Archaeological Window.
The Berlin Palace was home to the electors of Brandenburg, kings of Prussia, and the emperors of Germany. The revolution of November 1918, the ensuing abdication of the emperor, the conversion of the palace into a museum during the Weimar Republic, the burnt-out WWII ruins, their demolition, the construction of the Soviet-era Palast der Republik, and its subsequent dismantling due to dangerous asbestos levels – all these events will be retold in the Gallery of the Site’s History. And, in a parallel display, the original palace’s cellar remnants, uncovered after more than half a century, will be made accessible to visitors in the Archaeological Window. These Baroque-era vaults will include the palace commander’s former guardroom and the blast holes drilled to demolish the palace in 1950. The visitor will thus have a chance to step into the ‘bowels’ of the site’s past.