Berlin opens ambitious cultural forum in palace replica


BERLIN — One of Germany’s most ambitious cultural projects, which will feature collections of African, Asian and other non-European art in a partial replica of a Prussian palace that was demolished by East Germany’s communist government after World War II, is opening to the public on Tuesday.

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

The project results from 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, itself now knocked down.

It will feature exhibits from two of Berlin’s state museums, the Ethnological Museum and the Museum for Asian Art. It is starting out with six exhibtions, including one on Berlin’s history, another on ivory, and one on 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 German news agency dpa. “I think that is very good because it shows the bandwidth of subjects but also the various ways in which exhibitions can be done today.”

Recreating the 18th-century royal palace wasn’t universally popular. Some former East Berliners had fond memories of the Palace of the Republic, the 1970s East German parliament building, which also housed restaurants and a bowling alley but was considered an eyesore by most westerners.

Berlin’s museums authority hopes to be able to show at the Humboldt Forum some of the artifacts known as the Benin Bronzes, which were looted from the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin by a British colonial expedition in 1897. The Ethnological Museum has one of the world’s largest collections of historical objects from the kingdom, and Berlin wants to discuss possible future showings in Germany in negotiations on returning artifacts to Nigeria.

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