Is there a simpler, more popular German-language poem than Joseph von Eichendorff’s “Mondnacht”? The competition should be manageable. “It was as if heaven had kissed the earth silently” – that sounds as if a little song were singing itself here, as if it had always been there. But these catchy of all Eichendorff verses were a product of intensive artistic work, which dragged on several formulation attempts before the poem rose as a phoenix from the ashes of the letters. The Berlin State Library is now exhibiting Eichendorff’s manuscript in its new exhibition area and gives the viewer an idea of how much effort the seemingly effortless once required, how much conscious, artistic expertise was necessary to create the infallibly effective little marvel.
The new one that opened a few days ago “Cultural Work” of the State Library in its parent store Unter den Linden has every reason to believe that it will soon be named the most beautiful exhibition space in Berlin. Here, the 350-year-old institution shows its 356 exhibits story and growing their collections. She does this in a black, chilled exhibition space with a sophisticated showcase architecture full of enticing visual axes. The exhibits are lifted out of the general gloom with mini spotlights with a maximum of 50 lux, in a staging form that was first shown in the Marbach Literature Archive had been tried.
One stands here at the sources of immeasurably effective acts of the spirit
Not only does it have the advantage of being easy on the eyes and object, it also allows the viewer to focus on each new exhibit. If the quiet is not disturbed by a loud babble of voices or a didactic explanatory video, a uniquely intensive exchange with almost unbelievable treasures becomes possible. The first few days have already shown that the “Stabi” and their security guards can get a little better with the quiet, because great, well-deserved encouragement from the audience can be expected. One can spend many hours in this chilled treasure house, which seems doubly attractive during any heat waves.
Along a central aisle, the course combines the history of the institutions (right), which ranges from the electoral private collection in the residential palace to the modern research and study library at two locations, with the history of the collections (left), which are becoming more and more differentiated and include all possible written and visual and audio media.
Ancient oriental and medieval manuscripts, the travel works of Alexander von Humboldt and Karl Richard Lepsius are shown in giant colored folios, the book Kabus, which is so important for Goethe’s “Divan”, appears as a German first edition and as a Persian manuscript, including the documents of the translator Friedrich Heinrich von Diez. You can see the first edition of Weber’s “Freischütz” next to the playbill for the premiere and – temporarily in a temporary exhibition at the end – the manuscript of the St. Matthew Passion Johann Sebastian Bach. One really stands at the sources of immeasurably effective acts of the spirit.
Catalog slips and usage regulations illustrate everyday operations for a famous and not-so-famous public, including the great names in Berlin science from Schleiermacher to Einstein, from Mommsen to Harnack. The longer the period, the more politics penetrates the collections, drawings and leaflets of the revolutions since 1848, very militaristic colored children’s books from the First World War, left-wing underground prints from around 1968. The colored newspaper volume from survivors of the Holocaust in Bergen-Belsen is poignant: “Our devastation in Pictures” was the Yiddish title of the special issue of the “Wechnblatt” from 1946.
The library not only preserves the testimonies of the story of the disaster, it was directly involved in it
The exhibition area on the ground floor leads to a staircase that leads to an underground “treasury” for temporary exhibitions of particularly valuable and particularly vulnerable objects. In addition to the Bach manuscript, the only illustrated codex of the Nibelungenlied from the 15th century can also be seen there, one of five parchment prints of the Gutenberg Bible and daguerreotypes from 1850, small, individually framed, unique specimens that contain razor-sharp portraits of unknown ladies and gentlemen demonstrate.
Upstairs there will be thematic temporary exhibitions in other rooms, soon, appropriate to Berlina show ETA Hoffman, whose death has just marked the 200th anniversary. So it’s by no means just about the history of science and research, which would already offer enough material in Berlin. The references to urban society, the readers and writers, also come into focus. The guest book is adorable of the married couple Rahel and Karl August Varnhagen, in which the visiting cards of the guests were glued in irregularly cut bricolage: Dr. F. Schleiermacher next to Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy under Octavio Graf zur Lippe, to Le Baron Charles d’Arnim pasted over Professor Steffens, all in different shades of color and typography, and proudly untitled somewhere on the page: Alexander von Humboldt. What conversations might have been held on these evenings!
Of course, the show does not refrain from buying and stealing collections. Libraries requisitioned by Jews were used in World War II to fill in gaps by means of long lists; the great library not only preserves the testimonies of the story of disaster, it was directly involved in it. In addition to the early preoccupation with the Hebrew language and Jewish culture, there is an attempt to erase them.
The Second World War put the house and its holdings in danger: relocations to dozens of different locations, the division into two houses with two holdings still have an impact today. Parts of the Varnhagen Collection are still in Kraków. All of this is shown in a clever and “low-threshold” way, as the programmatic explanations at the opening promise – and thank God it is also shown in such a way that one is supported when climbing higher levels for more detailed study, for example through digital networking in I-Pads. Anything is possible between animated, hasty snacking and hours of immersion.
Berlin State Library, Unter den Linden, Tuesday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday to 8 p.m. www.stabi-kulturwerk.de