Highlights from my Museology tour in Germany (Heba Khairy, ITP 2017, Egypt)

Written by Heba Khairy, Curator, Grand Egyptian Museum (ITP 2017, Egypt)

In late November, I travelled with ten of my colleagues from the Ministry of Antiquities for a two-week heritage and museology tour in Germany, supported by the German Archaeological Institute in Egypt. The heritage and museology tour is a capacity-building tour programme for the museum and heritage professionals working in the Ministry of Antiquities, and it is dedicated to networking and exchanging experiences and knowledge between German and Egyptian museums and heritage sites.

We spent the first week in Berlin moving between its diverse museums. Our first visit was to the most distinguished cultural place in Berlin, the ‘Museum Island’, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as the place itself has a long interesting important history starting from the 19th century, then the Second World War to 2009 which was the year of reopening for the reconstructed Neues Museum. Of course our first visit was to the Neues Museum (New Museum) as it showcases the iconic and significant head of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti. I believe that the most interesting thing about the branding of the Neues Museum in particular, and Berlin in general, is that the Egyptian queen became the most distinguished culture heritage face of Berlin.

The Neues Museum displays a unique collection from the heretic king Akhenaten or Amarna period, as well as a huge number of artefacts dating back to the chronological ancient Egyptian history in addition to the unique manuscripts of a number of the most famous German archaeologists, who have a great history of antiquities discoveries in Egypt.

The museum owns an exceptional gallery of Bronze Age artefacts, belonging to different civilisations. Furthermore, in addition to a prehistory gallery, the museum has a huge gallery dedicated to natural history of humanity, showcasing the development of human behavior in a very interesting and simple context.

Currently some galleries are subject to renovation in terms of renewing the display cards to change them from cards written in German only to cards written in English and German. In addition, they are changing the method of interpretation for a newer method in such a way to ensure public interaction and the clear delivery of key messages.

Then we moved to the Pergamon Museum, which is one of the most visited museums in Berlin, a very special kind of museum which not only exhibits artefacts, but also houses monumental buildings such as the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, the Market Gate of Miletus reconstructed from the ruins found in Anatolia, as well as the Mashtta Palace’s Facade.

The most interesting thing about my tour inside the museum was the replica pair of colossal statues of winged five-foot lions from the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal, which was originally displayed in the British Museum. It reminded me of the time I spent in the Room 6 gallery of Ancient Assyria at the British Museum.

Our second tour was inside museums of the modern history of Germany, which are housing the stories, artefacts and features of the social, political and economic life of Germany. Those museums consider and integrate archaeology, history and contemporary art, displayed in such an interesting interactive way, delivering stories and inspiration easily to museum audiences. One of those museums was the German Historical Museum known as DHM, which describes itself as a place of ‘enlightenment and understanding of the shared history of Germans and Europeans’.

The German Museum of Technology I considered as one of the best interactive technology museums I have ever visited till now. It presents a broad spectrum of old and new technology within Germany, and demonstrates the various historical connections to culture and everyday life. The museum occupies a historical industrial heritage site dating back to 1874. The large museum park – containing two windmills, a water mill, a smithy and a brewery – is also an oasis of green.

The museum’s permanent galleries display locomotives and planes, looms, suitcase- and jewellery production and machine tools, computers, radios and cameras, diesel engines, steam engines, scientific instruments, paper machines and printing presses. The museum actively shapes the political and scientific debate on the role of technology and science in modern societies by also organising lectures, symposia and congresses.

The third day of our first week we visited, a unique outstanding museum which is considered one of the most important museums in Germany. Halle State Museum of Prehistory is known throughout the world as the home of the Nebra Sky Disc, which is a bronze round disc with blue-green patina inlaid with gold symbols interpreted as a sun or a full moon and many stars. The disk is attributed to a site near Nebra, Saxony-Anhalt, in Germany, and dated to 1600 BC which represent the Bronze Age Unetice culture in Germany. The disk was discovered in 1999, and it may represent an astronomical tool and an item of a religious significance. In 2013 it was included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register and described as ‘one of the most important archaeological finds of the 20th century’. The museum monitors in-depth – with a very clear display scenario and interesting narratives – the evolution of the primitive human life, beliefs and death in the prehistoric periods in Germany.

LWL-Museum of Archaeology in Herne presents around 10,000 artefacts from the 250,000-year history of mankind in Westphalia in Germany, and is designed as a model of an archaeological dig site. As a cultural hub in Herne, it explains how life has changed over the last decades. The unique design of its exhibitions makes the museum the most modern of its kind in Europe. The prize-winning research laboratory in the Museum of Archaeology explains to visitors how scientists decode the tracks of the past. The exhibition is not limited to a certain period, but tackles global and forward-looking dimensions of archaeology and research.

Staatliches Museum für Archäologie Chemnitz (smac)’s permanent exhibition is a window onto Saxon Archaeology. The archaeological objects were found during excavations carried out in Saxony.

With three floors totalling 3000 square meters, smac displays the development of Saxony from the time of the first hunter-gatherers around 300,000 years ago up to the early industrial period. The galleries show how humans gradually transformed the original natural environment first into an agrarian settlement structure and eventually into the modern cultural landscape of today. The museum is an interactive space, provide audiences with a very interesting atmosphere of hands-on activities to discover, and virtual technology tools to enjoy and experience new feelings and knowledge.

The museums in Germany are totally outstanding in many domains: they play an essential role as cultural hubs for both the national and international audiences, they provide in-depth details about German archaeological history and social heritage using a very successful ways of presenting knowledge combined with the latest technologies. Germany is a unique country with a very unique culture heritage legacy. German authorities and museums endeavor to ensure that the German heritage is well preserved and maintained for future generations of both Germans and other nations.