Berlin opens ambitious new museum in replica of Prussian palace


One of Germany’s most ambitious cultural projects, featuring collections of African, Asian and other non-European art in a partial replica of a Prussian palace demolished by East Germany’s communist government after World War II, opens Tuesday for public .

The Humboldt Forum – located in the heart of Berlin, next to the neoclassical Museum Island complex – was designed by the Italian architect Franco Stella and has three replica facades, a modern and a contemporary interior. It cost 680 million euros ($802 million).

The project is the result of a 2002 vote by the German parliament to reconstruct the 18th-century palace. The original was demolished in 1950 and later replaced by East Germany’s parliament building, which has now itself been demolished.

It will feature exhibitions from two of Berlin’s state museums, the Ethnological Museum and the Museum of Asian Art. It begins with six exhibitions, including one on the history of Berlin, one on ivory and one on the brothers Alexander and Wilhelm von Humboldt, the explorer and educator whose name the forum bears.

“The exhibitions are very varied, from very different institutions,” director Hartmut Dorgerloh told the German news agency dpa. “I really like that, because it shows the range of subjects, but also the different ways that exhibitions can be done today.”

Replicating the 18th-century royal palace was not popular everywhere. Some former East Berliners had fond memories of the Palace of the Republic, the East German parliament building from the 1970s, which also housed restaurants and a bowling alley, but was considered an eyesore by most Westerners.

The Berlin Museum Authority hopes to be able to display some artifacts known as the Benin Bronzes at the Humboldt Forum, which were looted from the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin in 1897 by a British colonial expedition. The Ethnological Museum has one of the world’s largest collections of historical artifacts from the kingdom, and Berlin is looking to discuss possible future displays in Germany in negotiations to return artifacts to Nigeria.