History of the Collection

In 1991 the Deutsches Historisches Museum (DHM) founded its Picture Archive. What brought it about was the need to compile a central and systematic archive of photographs of the objects in the collections that had been taken since 1987. Moreover, when the collections of the former Museum für Deutsche Geschichte (MfDG) of the GDR were integrated into the DHM in 1990, their decentralised object documentation and photo collection also had to be systematically organised.

Besides integrating the existing stores of objects and photos from the two museums, it was possible to expand the collection of contemporary photography by purchasing the archives of press photo agencies and the estates of press photographers.

By acquiring the negative collection of the photographer Gerhard Gronefeld (1911–2000) in 1990, the museum came into possession of some 50,000 motifs from the period between 1936 and 1965, particularly from the Second World War, when Gronefeld was a member of the “Propaganda Company” of the Wehrmacht. A further focal point of this collection are photographs of the occupation zones and the post-war period in Berlin. In 1948 Gronefeld moved to West Germany and documented the social and political life there up to 1965.

In 1991 it was possible to purchase a selection of negatives from Liselotte Orgel-Köhne (1918–2002) that contained above all motifs from the everyday life of women under National Socialism. The original prints of her work that were acquired at the same time are preserved in the Photography Collection.

In addition, the Picture Archive was enriched by the acquisition of photo estates that documented everyday life in the GDR. These include the photographic œuvres of the two freelance press and industrial photographers Martin Schmidt (b. 1925) and Kurt Schwarzer (1927–2011), who documented life in the GDR from the 1950s to the 1980s, as well as the works of the West Berlin photographer Klaus Lehnartz (1936–2008). His photographic documentation of the GDR between 1961 and 1989 was integrated into the DHM collection in 1995.

In the 1990s it was possible to acquire three important photo agency archives: the archive of the "Pressebild-Verlag Schirner" with some 1.5 million negatives, that of "Presse-Foto Röhnert" (around 30,000 original prints) and the collection of the photo agency "Agentur Schostal" (some 40,000 original prints). The Schirner agency, including “Sportbild-Verlag Max Schirner”  since 1930, was among the official reporters at the Olympic Games in 1936. In addition to sports events, which form a central part of the collection, the agency’s archive also documented contemporary history and cultural life in the Federal Republic of Germany. The archive of the agency founded by Heinz Röhnert (1917–1983) also covered the period from the 1930s on into the 1960s and contains photos about such topics as entertainment and travel as well as portraits of actors. The collection from Schostal press photo agency is very diverse, illustrating such subjects as culture, fashion, glamour and advertising in the 1920s and 1930s.

In 1996 the DHM acquired the archive of the "Raumbild-Verlag", an agency founded by Otto Wilhelm Schönstein (1891–1958) that produced and sold stereoscopic photographs. At the beginning of the 1930s, Heinrich Hoffmann, the official photographer of Adolf Hitler, bought into the company and began determining the orientation of its contents. Owing to the close connection with the “Third Reich”, the fully intact archive now represents a unique documentation of the political events of the time.

The negative archive of Hans Hartz (1902–1971), including more than 10,000 motifs with city views, came to the DHM in 1997. During his 40-year professional career, the photographer, known as "Mr. Postcard", had concentrated on cityscapes and landscape panoramas, which he also sold as picture postcards. Besides the high artistic quality of the photographs, their particular attraction also lies in the repetition of the motifs, which taken together form a chronology of the ongoing changes in places and buildings.

Thanks to the purchase of some 11,500 stereoscopic photographs from the archive of “Kaiser Panoramas” in the year 2005, the DHM possesses the largest collection of stereoscopic photographs in Germany. The archive is currently being digitalised – not only to protect and preserve the easily damaged glass slides, but also to make them available to the public.