A unique joint project
A look back at the Berlin of 1987: The city celebrated its 750th anniversary and presented itself as a ctiy of the sciences – in West Berlin with the exhibition “The Sciences in Berlin” and in East Berlin with the exhibition “750 Years of Berlin – Science and Production in the GDR to the Benefit of the People”. Since then, numerous individual exhibitions have dedicated themselves to the different faces of the sciences in Berlin. And yet, it is not until now, 20 years after Reunification, in the jubilee year 2010, that the city as a whole takes a look from a united perspective at the history and present situation of the sciences here – crossing the boundaries between institutions, disciplines and epochs. 200 years of the Humboldt University, 300 years of the Charité, 300 years since the first statute and first publication by the Academy of the Sciences and, one year later, 100 years of the Max Planck and Kaiser Wilhelm Society – these anniversaries prompted the institutions celebrating their various jubilees to organise the joint exhibition “WeltWissen – World Knowledge”, which looks beyond the walls of their own institutions. The 200-year jubilee of the Berlin Museum of Natural History and the 350th birthday of the Berlin State Library in 2011 are another two good reasons to celebrate. The Technical University, the Berlin State Museums and the Deutsches Museum, Munich are also involved as exhibition partners. In addition to organisational and partner institutions, more than 150 lenders have contributed towards this great panoramic exhibition.
A wide diversity of themes and objects at one location
The visitor to Martin-Gropius-Bau can look forward to a diversity of themes and objects on more than 3,200 square metres of exhibition area – an impressive collection of 1,569 exhibits including historical original documents, technical devices, expedition equipment and visual representations of new discoveries and ideas which bring alive the long and changeable history of scientific activities in Berlin. Bizarre objects such as glasses in which Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg collected the city’s dust for his microbiological studies are on display, as are drawings that Karl Richard Lepsius brought to Berlin from Egypt. Samples from the more than 600,000 documentary notes with which the Brothers Grimm worked painstakingly on their History of the German Language in the Prussian metropolis can be found alongside anatomical, pathological preparations from the world-famous collection of physician Rudolf Virchow. Sketches that show Albert Einstein’s work on his relativity theory, which he completed in Berlin, are also being exhibited. The “Hahn Table” with the working implements that made the first nuclear fission possible in 1938 represents research that has changed the world: Lise Meitner planned the experiments on nuclear fission together with Otto Hahn, but the joint completion of their works was prevented when they fled the Nazi terror. And although it was Meitner who successfully interpreted the results in exile, the Nobel Prize was awarded to Hahn.
“WeltWissen“ (World Knowledge) by no means limits its view to merely historical events. Current projects are also looked at and visitors are given in insight into research projects being carried out in Berlin at the present time. These range from studies on artificial intelligence to a scientific look at our own city. Old manuscripts from the Silk Route which have recently been the subject of new research work are just as exciting for visitors as the fascinating 3-D images from the project to map Mars. The wide range of themes addressed by the exhibition are divided up into three exhibition areas: a large, object-based installation in the central Atrium, six chronologically arranged rooms dedicated to the historical phases of science which take you through 300 years of scientific history and the Knowledge Paths, which show the different methods and working processes that researchers use in their field of work.
The “WeltWissen” Atrium installation
In the central Atrium, visitors are welcomed by the outer surface of a giant spherical segment. The large screen that covers the entire room showing the projected shadowlike images of smaller and larger objects hides more than it reveals. Not until you enter the interior space of the spherical segments does it become apparent that what you are looking at is actually a shelving unit of vast dimensions. US artist, Mark Dion, whose installation already appeared at the London Tate Gallery and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, has filled the shelves with objects he collected while wandering through Berlin’s scientific storage rooms. The surface area, covering more than 500 square metres and stretching right up to beneath the large glass dome, contains 104 compartments with animals, plants, sculptures, books, stones and microscopes. The installation highlights the system behind scientific activity as well as its fragmentary nature. “Speaking telescopes” provide explanations of selected objects from the overall amount on exhibition. Berlin scientists also explain in interviews what research projects are currently being worked on in Berlin, ranging from satellite construction to climate and malaria research.
Historical phases of the sciences in Berlin
Following their initial amazement, visitors are taken on a journey through history in six phases. At the beginning of the 18th century, Berlin was still seen as provincial in terms of science. Within only a few decades, the city rose to occupy a leading position among Europe’s capitals. Because of its proximity to the seat of power, Berlin’s scientific world had to repeatedly face new and forceful influences within society and successes and failures were more starkly characterised in the city than elsewhere. In the scientific metropolis of today’s Berlin, around 200,000 people from all over the world work and study in the field of science.
This part of the exhibition shows the mutual influence that scientific research and the political and cultural environment have had on one another. From the foundation of the Academy of the Sciences, called into being by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz at the beginning of the 18th century to the foundation of the university influenced greatly by the concepts of Wilhelm von Humboldt and Friedrich Schleichermacher at the beginning of the 19th century, history takes us through the developments in the German Empire, the interruptions and catastrophes of the War years and the years running up to the War and the special situation that existed in the divided city right up to the present. Interviews with people who were witnesses of the events of their times – among these politician Wolfgang Thierse – tell visitors about their own experiences. The interviews take place in the presence of an object of particular symbolic importance: the handwritten original of Ludwig van Beethoven’s 9th symphony represents the emotionality of the reunification celebrations and the reunion of cultural assets this involved. Following the separate removal from storage in World War 2, a part of the originals were stored in West Berlin, while the rest were kept in East Berlin. Both parts were brought back together in 1996 by the Berlin State Library. In 2001, Unesco accepted these handwritten originals into the Register Memory of the World. The once separated parts can be marvelled at in the exhibition.
How does Berlin exchange its knowledge with other places in the world? What paths do scientists pursue when they are doing research work? The third section of the exhibition looks into these questions with the use of objects, audio plays and installations presented in rooms dedicated to subjects like experimenting, travelling, interpreting, visualising, arguing and cooperating. The area concerning travel, for example, takes a look at the changing motivations for exploring and researching while travelling from 1800 until the present day. Objects and documents from Egypt, the Amazon region and Siberia as well as audio versions of travel diaries and film reports allow the impressions of scientists from the past to come alive. In the area dedicated to arguing, famous scientific disputes are re-enacted as visually supported audio plays.
Events for adults, families and schools
The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive programme of activities including guided tours and more than 60 individual events. Experts from the various disciplines will be presenting current research projects. There will also be lectures, discussions, readings, a film schedule and video bus tours through the scientific city Berlin. Families and school classes can enjoy a diverse range of educational formats designed for children and school pupils of different age groups.