Claudia Roth wants to see the controversial Humboldt Forum as an open space in the heart of the capital. But the huge cultural center also remains for the Minister of State: a construction site.
The Humboldt Forum in Berlin is currently Germany's most important and most expensive cultural project before the final opening step. The doors of two huge museum areas are also to be opened on Saturday. Then, for the first time, the Benin bronzes, considered colonial loot, can be seen again. From the point of view of Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth, the argument about the forum is not off the table.
"The Humboldt Forum is a construction site and will remain so," said the Greens politician to the dpa in Berlin. "That can also be something positive, where something new is created, where something else is done and the construction plan is changed."
The criticism of the culture and exhibition center has more to do with the external presentation than with what is happening inside. "The Humboldt Forum is not a place for self-reflection, but a place for dealing with our history in cooperation with those who have suffered from our history, who have been made victims of our history internationally," said Roth. "It will be an open place for international encounters, where presentations and exhibitions take place that are not only curated from a white German perspective, but are also created in cooperation."
The building, which covers around 40,000 square meters, is shared by two museums of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, the State of Berlin, the Humboldt University and the Humboldt Forum Foundation. Exhibits from Asia, Africa, America, Oceania - and Berlin are on display.
The debates are also promoted by the 680 million euro construction behind the controversial reconstructed palace facade, which also stands for German colonial power. Works of art that ended up in museums under colonial conditions can be found under a cross on the dome with a biblical verse that can be seen from afar and calls for the submission of all people to Christianity.
Germany and Nigeria recently paved the way for the return of the Benin bronzes stolen during the colonial period. The Prussian Foundation has now transferred ownership of its 512 objects to Nigeria. Instead of 220 originally planned, around 40 objects are now to be loaned to show the range of Benin's courtly art.
Roth: Return of colonial objects "door opener"
"With the return of the Benin bronzes, with the agreement with Nigeria, there is also very close cooperation on an equal footing. The interior of the Humboldt Forum has changed, and a lot has been rethought and implemented," said Roth. At the same time, she made it clear: "The agreement does not mean that the pressure is gone, on the contrary. It's not the end. You can't say: well, now we're done with the story. I think that's like a door opener. That's it just the beginning." The willingness in the museums is great.
Roth sees a great opportunity to take colonial history and responsibility seriously. "We have to try to create justice wherever possible, as a prerequisite for a completely new relationship with the communities of origin."
From their point of view, the Humboldt Forum is a suitable place for this. "The Humboldt Forum is not a classic museum where a colonial collection is presented, it is a place where there are also discussions, debates, theatre, music and film." It should be "an open place in the heart of our city and should show what international encounters mean". It should also be “getting to know what makes the world”.
The Humboldt Forum should help to overcome the Eurocentric perspective. "Not only to process and deal with the past, but also to start a completely new relationship," said Roth. "African museums and African artists have repeatedly told us how important it is that we arrive in the here and now." Exhibitions designed by indigenous people should be on display "that have never existed anywhere before".
Criticism of dome banner
Roth again criticized the dome banner. "The inscription is perceived as a claim of a dominant culture." It is not enough to say that this was historically the case. Today we are further. "If this is a place where different cultures, different religions should meet, then we have to contextualize what was historically the case." Something has to happen, but: "We're not tearing down the building again."
After controversial donations, Roth wants to put a stop to private funding from unclear sources. "We want transparency in the donations." It must be possible to rule out "monetary donations from people from right-wing extremist, racist or anti-Semitic backgrounds".