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Istituto per i Beni Culturali Emilia-Romagna

Memoria e Ricerca

Mobilized Memory. War Exhibitions in Interwar Germany

di Christine Beil
in Memoria e Ricerca n.s. 7 (2001), p. 71

Using exhibitions and museums in interwar Berlin as an example, the article discusses the utilization of war and the link between aesthetics and political orientation. During the Weimar Republic, the First World War was not explicitly made a topic in the State-owned Zeughaus museum. Rather, a political statement against the Versailles treaty was made by leaving in place empty pedestals where once weapons taken from the enemy as spoils of war were on display before they had to be returned. At the same time, the radical left developed the anti-war type of exhibition, in which the horrors of war were emphasized and modern formal techniques from Expressionism and Dada were used. By the end of the Weimar Republic, a heroic, nationalistic and revanchist image of the war and of soldiers began to assert itself in experiential installations with models of battlefields and tin soldiers. This image was then systematically deployed in the Nazi era in didactically elaborate exhibitions on military history intended to mentally "arm" the general public. Along the lines of "reactionary modernism", bacward-looking, anti-democratic ideas wrapped in a modern installation aesthetic were presented to the museum patrons.