As Germany marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, London’s British Museum is examining 600 years of German history through a selection of unique objects ranging from the iconic Volkswagen Beetle – a symbol of Germany’s post-war economic recovery – to the Berlin Wall itself.
The show also features some of Germany’s best-known artworks, including Tischbein’s famous portrait of Goethe or a portrait of Erasmus by German Renaissance artist Hans Holbein the Younger.
“It looks at Germany’s history through its memories, through the things that have a legacy today in Germany and perhaps the things that the British might not quite understand in the same way because our legacy, our historic memory is so different. So we look at such things as the fact that there have been huge areas of what was once Germany but are now not German at all, but are fundamentally part of German history,” says exhibition curator Barrie Cook.
On show is also a print of Albrecht Dürer's 16th century woodcut of a rhinoceros – as well as porcelain sculpture it inspired two centuries later – which remains a powerful artistic influence to this day.
But perhaps the exhibition’s most outstanding artefact is a Gutenberg Bible dating back to 1455. One of Europe’s first printed books, it took two and a half years to complete and is one of only 48 surviving copies.
“We look at the great German reputation for technical skill, which still survives today. Beginning with the earliest object in the exhibition which is Gutenberg’s Bible, the first time a German changed the whole world – we are still living in Gutenberg’s world,” explains Barrie Cook.
A ‘Strasbourg Clock’ dating back to 1589 is a glistening example of German clock-making and metal-engraving.
The show also features numerous examples of works inspired by the Bauhaus movement, an influential modernist art school founded in 1919, which sought to merge traditional craft forms with artistic vision and modern industrial design.
The influence of Bauhaus design can also be seen in a replica of an iron gate used at the Nazi Concentration Camp of Buchenwald, bearing the chilling inscription ‘To Each His Due’, borrowed from Roman law.
‘Germany: Memories of a Nation’ runs at London’s British Museum until January 25.