- Wiederaufbau: Das Deutsches Museum, 1945–1970
Due to its gradual Nazification on one hand and the impact of air raids in July and December 1944 on the other, the Deutsches Museum—the science and industry museum on the Isar River in Munich—was both physically and morally damaged by the end of the Third Reich. Because it fell within the American zone, the discontinuity with the past was less than it otherwise would have been—only thirty members of staff were forced to leave out of a surviving workforce of 150. Had it been in the Soviet zone, for example, the institution would have been completely transformed. Nevertheless, the leadership faced a massive task to bring the museum back to its former glory.
This volume by former museum director Otto Mayr is a relatively short account of the twenty-five years up to 1970 when the reconstruction was finally completed. One major problem was the kind of museum that had to be rebuilt in the new Federal Republic of Germany. The physical reconstruction was daunting enough, but it was simple compared to the development of a new role in the politics and culture of postwar Germany.
The original conception of the museum was very much the personal creation of industrialist Oskar von Miller. He founded the museum in 1903 at the height of the Wilhelmine empire and he enjoyed close links with the Bavarian royal family, dethroned in 1918. Furthermore, unlike the Science Museum in London or the Smithsonian in Washington, the Deutsches Museum was not a national body, despite its name. It was a Bavarian institution, controlled by the Bavarian Ministry of Culture. Thus it was a cultural legacy of empire, only without the backing of an imperial state. Mayr’s story of the museum’s reconstruction in both its physical and moral aspects shows how a modern German institution was created out of the Nazi wreckage of a Wilhelmine ideal.
This is very much a high-level account, divided chronologically by the terms of office of the different directors. Hence it is largely concerned with the management of the museum, its internal politics, and the long-term planning of exhibitions. It is the institutional history of an organization [End Page 939] rather than a sociological account of a community. There is no comparison with museums elsewhere, perhaps on the assumption that the experience of the Deutsches Museum was unique. This is unfortunate, as there are parallels to be drawn with the much-delayed building of the Centre Block at the Science Museum or with the creation of the Museum of History and Technology in Washington. And surely the management of the Deutsches Museum must have looked over their shoulders at developments at their rivals as they sought to rebuild their museum. Although there is material about the permanent galleries and exhibitions in the context of the overall reconstruction, this book lacks the sustained treatment of exhibitions one finds in the 2010 volume edited by Elisabeth Vaupel and Stefan Wolff on the Deutsches Museum in the Third Reich. Nor is there much on the role played in the post-war museum by leading scientists or large German companies. However there is good coverage of the museum’s relations with its neighboring universities, the University of Munich and the Technische Hochschule.
But these criticisms should not be allowed to obscure that this is an excellent book. Otto Mayr has both the personal experience of leading the museum and a unique empathy with his predecessors, which allow him to give an insightful account of the rebirth of a world-class institution. This book will be of great value to historians of museums, students of museology, and scholars working on the postwar reconstruction of West German institutions.
Peter J. T. Morris is Keeper of Research Projects at the Science Museum, London.