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Long-awaited Humboldt Forum faces further teething problems as it prepares to open doors

The Humboldt Forum, a vast art gallery in Mitte which is to host Berlin’s state collection of non-European art, has hosted a number of controversies and debates before even opening its doors. It is housed in a reconstruction of the old Prussian Royal Palace, which after having been left a bombed-out shell by the Second World War, was completely demolished during the GDR and replaced with the Palace of the Republic. When, following reunification, this was itself to be bull-dozed due to asbestos contamination, a twenty-year debate ensued as to whether it ought to be reconstructed in its original Baroque style or as its GDR-era entity. The decision to emulate the former led to further controversy in 2017, when a cross mounted on the building’s dome, paying homage to the Baroque original, was accused of contradicting the intended secularism of the museum project. It was perceived by some as an unwelcome reminder of German colonialism, which had been justified in the name of Christianity. However, CDU ministers defended the decision, with Minister for Culture Monika Grütters describing the cross as a Christian symbol "for charity, freedom, cosmopolitanism and tolerance," which upheld the intention to create a "Forum of Understanding" among world cultures. Late last year, as the museum launched its virtual collections, the debate was reignited as the museum’s provenance research and display of looted colonial-era artefacts came under scrutiny.

Photo: "Humboldt Forum"by mr172 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Now, as the Humboldt Forum comes ever closer to welcoming its first visitors in July, it faces technical problems which threaten yet more delays. There are serious construction defects which have yet to be rectified as well as a risk of cyberattacks due to weak IT infrastructure, Süddeutsche Zeitung reports. To make matters worse, Der Spiegel broke news of complaints by museum staff of a workplace culture of surveillance and humiliation. It is in these difficult circumstances that the Forum is under pressure to open to spectacular fanfare worthy of its self-positioning as the German Louvre or British Museum, following its digital opening in December, which even Grütters acknowledged to be rather anticlimactic. In her live-streamed speech for the occasion, she quipped that the Forum really deserved ‘a party, with an audience and a festive programme’. As a result, anticipation for the in-person opening in July is rife, if now tinged with the familiar anxiety that has enveloped the project from its very conception.


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