Bonn Congratulations by Angela Merkel at the Haus der Geschichte
The weather had been exactly the same as today, a radiant, beautiful day in Bonn, recalls Oscar Schneider, 25 years ago. He was Federal Minister of Construction and Helmut Kohl's confidante in all building projects and as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Haus der Geschichte, the first speaker at the opening ceremony - even before Chancellor Kohl. The weather was the only constant, everything else was different: political hostilities against the Kohl Museum in Bonn, great nervousness among the movers and shakers, who in difficult times tried to get a house up and running for which there was no role model.
And then something happened, a story that did what was needed: the fall of the Berlin Wall, reunification - none of that was plannable. "A turn of the epoch, which was naturally not envisaged in our concepts and timetables, but which had to be integrated into the exhibition and appreciated," as Hans Walter Hütter, President of the Haus der Geschichte Foundation, said at the ceremony on Friday afternoon. "That was irritating and laborious."
Chancellor Angela Merkel initially preferred to talk about the advantages: "In a house like this, we can literally feel that history is not something abstract, but something that touches each and every one of us," Merkel said in her speech in the foyer of the House of History. The speech was sometimes witty, sometimes emotional - especially when she spoke about developments in the GDR. For example, the Monday demonstrations in Leipzig, the massive police presence and the latent threat to attack the protesters.
"Many no longer know what life was like in a divided country," Merkel said in front of 650 guests, "reminding them of this remains extremely important," she added. She therefore appreciates exhibits such as the note by Günter Schabowski from the press conference on 9 November 1989, at the end of which he announced the new, relaxed travel law of the GDR. In response to a question by the Italian journalist Riccardo Ehrman and a question by the picture reporter Peter Brinkmann, Schabowski replied: "To my knowledge... that is immediately, right away". Immediately after the television broadcast, thousands of East Berliners flocked to the border crossings and vehemently demanded the opening of the gates.
(This video is part of a cooperation between GA and WDR.)
The Chancellor also finds Helmut Kohl's cardigan and Mikhail Gorbachev's sweater interesting as exhibits in the permanent exhibition because they stand for the negotiations of both statesmen on German unification. Merkel emphasized the activities of the Haus der Geschichte Foundation, which founded the Leipzig Contemporary History Forum on the tenth anniversary of the Monday demonstrations in Leipzig in 1999 and presented two institutions in Berlin, the "Tränenpalast" and the Kulturbrauerei, documenting everyday life in the GDR. The Chancellor also praised the historical sites in Bonn that the Foundation preserved - the Chancellor's bungalow, the Chancellor's study and the Federal Council. The Haus der Geschichte is a model for many similar museum initiatives from Vienna to Brussels.
"History offers orientation" is part of a living democracy and an instrument for self-assurance. The Chancellor finds it just right that the House of History is open to everyone with free admission: "A very wise decision, this house needs to belong to everyone“.
Looking to the future, she concluded with the warning: "A history museum must not be allowed to get dusty, it must have its finger on the pulse of the times.“
Hütter had previously reminded the audience of the beginnings of the Haus der Geschichte: "An institution of this kind, a national museum dedicated exclusively to contemporary history, was nowhere to be found". "We started from scratch," he said. The first permanent exhibition was opened in the Haus der Geschichte in 1994: "It linked historical events with current events and took the past right up to the present.
20 million visits in 25 years
25 years later, Hütter is delighted with the 20 million or so visits to the museum's exhibitions, the continuing high level of popularity - and sees new tasks: "The social reality, which has changed significantly since the opening of the museum, also poses great challenges for the museums. In the future, exhibitions will have to be more diverse, more communicative, more participative, and also more international than in the past and today. They must actively incorporate the digital possibilities.“
According to Hütter, the recipe for success: reliable and adequate financing of the foundation by the state and institutional autonomy and scientific independence. "These structures guarantee the content-related, intellectual and creative freedom in which exhibitions, events and publications are created through constructive exchange with experts from all over the world and in trusting cooperation with the foundation's committees.
Charlie Chaplin's ballad "Smile" and "Summertime" by George Gershwin framed the event. Olivia Trummer and Peter Materna played animatedly. Here a smile, there a promise - the audience was enraptured.
(Original text: Thomas Kliemann / Translation: Mareike Graepel)