The Humboldt Forum in Berlin is now open to visitors

Anearly two years of delays caused by construction and COVID, the Humboldt Forum officially opens its doors to visitors today, July 20. Located on the site of the former Berlin Palace (and the East German Parliament after that), the museum incorporates three reconstructed Baroque facades of the palace and combines modern structures by architect Franco Stella, creating a cultural mega-complex that aspires to unite science, debate, the arts and culture.

The Humboldt Forum, named after the brothers Alexander and Wilhelm von Humboldt, German specialists in science and nature, is one of the largest, most ambitious and expensive cultural projects ever built in Europe, costing a total of $ 825 million. Germany hopes the investment pays off by putting Humboldt on a par with other global icons of culture, such as the British Museum and the Louvre. The institution’s programming offers current and historical shows, as well as discussions, screenings and performances on its various screens and cinema stages. Six exhibits kick off, including Terrible Beauty: Elephant — Human — Ivory, on the intricacies of the ivory trade, and Have a Seat, a children’s exhibit on the cultural aspects of sitting. The museum will open in phases: its vast collection of Asian art, an exhibition that includes 20,000 objects from the city’s Ethnological Museum and Asian Art Museum, will not open until September 22.

The Humboldt Forum has been criticized for this large ethnological collection because many of its artifacts were looted in African and Asian countries during the height of European colonialism. The Luf boat, a wooden sailboat from Papua New Guinea, has become a particular source of contention: it was stolen from the Bismarck Archipelago during the 19th-century German rule over the islands. The museum is popular Benin bronzes (surveys of the Royal Palace of Benin in 1897 by British forces) have also been the subject of controversy. However, in March, Germany agreed to repatriate the statues to Nigeria from next year, and the Humboldt will display replicas of the artifacts in their stead. There was also a local debate on the erection of the museum on the site of the former Palace of the Republic (the East German Parliament which took over the city palace) and erasing a troubled but important part of German history.

While all eyes are on the museum today, this is technically not the first time the Humboldt Forum has been unveiled: the museum made its soft debut last December via livestream. At that time, only terraces and courtyards were open to the public as COVID infection rates were still too high to allow visitors to safely enter interior spaces. But now visitors can explore the whole museum, and they can do it for free. During the first 100 days of the museum, admission fees are waived. Advance reservation is required and tickets are available online.

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