On the collection
The boat, driven by a hand-powered crank, in which two brothers tried in vain to flee the GDR across the Baltic Sea; Napoleon’s bicorne hat, captured at the Battle of Waterloo; a painting by Felix Nussbaum created in his hiding place in Brussels shortly before he was deported; a dress belonging to Prussian Queen Luise; the prosthetic hand of a medieval knight: these objects are just a small selection from around a million testimonies of German history in the DHM collection. The oldest are from the early Middle Ages when there was not yet a place called Germany, the youngest from the present day.
Every year the collection is expanded by around 7,000 objects and in this way represents a growing material memory of German history in its European context. In its composition it reflects the changing view of history: before an object is acquired we must consider why it is worth preserving and what this piece from our past will contribute to the present and to coming generations.
The task of the Deutsches Historisches Museum is to preserve these objects, which are often in a fragile condition and threaten to fall apart, but also to research their origin and their significance and to make them available to the public. The composition of the collection is not, however, accidental, but in itself is a reflection of 200 years of museum history.
The impressive stock of weapons, uniforms and military badges, but also many of the other testimonies of Prussian history can be traced back to the Zeughaus (Arsenal) – now housing the Permanent Exhibition – and to the Prussian military museum that was founded there in 1883, originally to promote the fame of the Brandenburg-Prussian army. After the Allies had decreed the dissolution of the museum in 1945, its stocks and the Zeughaus itself formed the basis, in 1950, of the newly founded Museum für Deutsche Geschichte, located in East Berlin. The central history museum of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was designed to convey a socialist view of history from the development of primitive society to the emergence of communism. The collecting activity concentrated on the realization of this model of history and brought together numerous examples of the history of social movements since the Middle Ages, particularly the labour movement, as well as of the material culture of everyday life. Another essential aim of the collecting was to document the society and politics of the GDR, so that when these collections were transferred to the DHM after reunification, the museum had at its disposal the most important collection on the history of the East German state.
In its continuing acquisition activity the DHM is committed to the regional, cultural and social diversity of Germany, as a part of Europe. Primary focal points are evidence of the history of democracy in Germany, but also of National Socialism and its ramifications for the Federal Republic and the GDR after the war.
Paintings, graphic prints, furniture, arts and crafts, technical and medical instruments and equipment, coins and medals, everyday objects, clothing and flags, documents, weapons and uniforms, military and civilian badges, posters, photographs and postcards, manuscripts and rare books – all this provides the basis for a broad range of knowledge about politics, culture, economy and society that challenges us to pose new questions and enter into a fruitful discussion about the past and the present.