Dark secrets of German museums | DW Documentary
Today, the restitution of these objects to their cultures of origin does happen – but it is the exception, rather than the rule. According to Bénédicte Savoy, a critic of Berlin’s Humboldt Forum museum, most institutions are still stone-walling. “Their greatest fear is arousing desire. They don’t want to give things back. So they keep quiet.”
Sealed off from the public, artifacts stored by German museums are often treated with neglect. Berlin’s new Humboldt Forum won’t change that. There, some 10,000 artifacts are planned for public display. But the entire collection is one million objects strong. This means that the vast majority of artifacts continue to be stored in a facility in the suburb of Dahlem, which suffers from flooding, dampness, and infestations of vermin.
Indeed, many museums do not even know how many cultural artifacts they possess. Munich’s Fünf Kontinente Museum has records of just 57,000 of its estimated 160,000 pieces, while Hamburg’s MARKK, formerly the Museum of Ethnology, has no idea which objects are in which boxes following roof damage and the disposal of asbestos.
The Netherlands and France have undertaken the complete digitization of global artifacts. But in Germany, budget and staff shortages are standing in the way. When will indigenous communities be able to finally look at their own cultural relics held in Germany? And how well equipped are ethnological museums to make such heritage available to the cultures that created it?
The documentary takes a critical look at the situation, making it clear that the problems are not the fault of often extremely-dedicated museum staff. There are structural problems, and solving them will require increased resources, research, and transparency.
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