As one of the finest museums of its type in the world, Berlin's Ethnologisches Museum has always been at the forefront of defining what a museum should be. With its recent move from its previous home in Dahlem to the very centre of the city in the brand-new Humboldt Forum, the museum has taken the opportunity to re-evaluate what it means to house artefacts from all over the world. The result is something even more engrossing and thought-provoking than before.
New location, new philosophy
The museum was previously known as the Museum für Völkerkunde. With a location way out west in Dahlem, it never attracted the number of visitors its remarkable collections deserved. With this move to the second floor of the new Humboldt-Forum, along with the Museum für Asiatische Kunst (Museum for Asian Art) on the third floor, the Ethnologisches Museum is truly entering a new phase of life. With its new modern environment comes a new modern outlook on what it means to be a world-leading museum. Its goal, as always, remains focused on stirring the visitor's interest and curiosity about people and cultures from around the world. But now we are also invited to consider the legacy and consequences of the colonialism that brought these artifacts to Berlin in the first place. What does it mean to look at these artefacts from a European perspective? Is it possible to open up this Eurocentric approach to allow other voices and opinions? What are our responsibilities towards the people from whom these artifacts were taken?
There are no easy answers to these questions, but this new Ethnologisches Museum is adamant that engaging with the fact of European appropriation and colonisation of the world is an important first step to truly understanding what these artifacts are. One major aspect of this philosophy is the restitution of looted artefacts, such as the renowned Benin Bronzes collection. They were stolen from the Kingdom of Benin (in modern-day Nigeria) by British soldiers and acquired by the museum via auction at various points in the 20th century. Negotiations for their return are ongoing and it is expected that they will be returned soon.
In September 2022, the last large exhibition area of the Humboldt Forum, the East Wing, also opened, and with it another part of the exciting object collections of the Ethnological Museum can be experienced.
Where do the artefacts come from?
There are over half a million objects in the Ethnologisches Museum, an eclectic but coherent mix of archaeological, ethnological and art-historical artefacts from every corner of the world. They are ordered into different collections based on their origins. Germany's colonial past was focused largely on West Africa and the Pacific around New Guinea, so the greatest depth of artefacts on display come from those areas. Some of the African artefacts are up to 800 years old. There are also large volumes of artefacts from the Americas, including from Aztec Mexico, Incan South America and from native populations in modern day USA and Canada. They will be on display in the east wing of the Humboldt Forum from 2022.
What can I see there?
In addition to physical objects like boats, cookware, ceremonial clothing and figures, the museum also holds a large collection of over 150,000 recordings of traditional music dating back to 1893. The phonograph, used to make the earliest recordings, was only invented in 1877, so these recordings truly are some of the oldest recordings ever made.
Some of the highlights of the Ethnologisches Museum
- Large outrigger boat from the island of Luf, Papua New Guinea
- Kangaroo tooth chain (before 1875), Australia
- Mask of the Chokwe, Angola
- Township Wall (2001/2018), António Ole
- Listening room of the 'Sounds of the World' : An Exploration of Organised Sound' exhibition
- Lienzo Seler II / Coixtlahuaca II (16th century), 16 sqm cotton cloth, Mexico
How to get there
The Ethnologisches Museum is right next to U-Bhf Museumsinsel, one of Berlin's newest and most beautiful U-Bahn stations. It's also just a 10-minute walk from Alexanderplatz (S+U) or a 15-minute walk from S-Bhf Hackescher Markt. To enter the museum, you'll need to book a ticket in advance to receive a time slot for entry.
Visit our new Berlin Tourist Information directly in the Humboldt Forum with its new wide range of services and marvel at the large historical city model.
Other nearby attractions
Since you are right in the city centre, between the TV Tower and the Brandenburg Gate, you are surrounded by sights. Of particular interest are the Berlin Cathedral on the Lustgarten directly opposite and all the buildings and museums on Berlin's Museum Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can also simply stroll along the boulevard Unter den Linden towards the Brandenburg Gate and enjoy a coffee on the Gendarmenmarkt, the most beautiful square in Berlin.
Wednesday to Monday 10.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m.