As the Euro crisis sees the continent fall into deeper bouts of self-reflection, Dahlem’s humble anthropological gem, the Museum of European Cultures (Museum Europäischer Kulturen) – re-opening after two and a half years of renovations – hopes to foster a little intra-continental understanding.
Depicting everyday European culture and popular art via textiles, imagery, clothing and furniture, the collection hoards a mix of academic and plebeian kitsch.
Born in 1999 from the marriage of the Folklore Museum and the Museum of European Ethnology, the museum is home to roughly 275,000 original objects.
Three newly designed exhibitions present a wacky cross-section of the museum’s cache, reflecting as much on German conceptions of the rest of Europe as on the continent itself. Among them is Visual Studies in the 19th Century, which includes socio-bent photographic archives and a series of mid-19th-century oil portraits by Berlin painter Wilhelm Kiesewetter, illustrating his trek from Armenia to Lapland.
Rotating presentations from the study collection begin with a survey of European kid’s toys, crowned by “Weihnachtsberg”, a 12-metre long, 328-figure mechanical nativity scene typical of the Erzgebirge region in east Germany.
More exciting though is the permanent collection, Cultural Contacts, which translates discussions about international trade and inter-cultural relations into a plastic fake döner kebab (no, really!), and a 700kg room-swamping gondola from 1910, replete with gold leaf and relief carvings, gifted to a Berliner by a Venetian trader and used for boating on Halensee lake.
Neighbouring such opulent artefacts, bizarre, cliché-ridden pan-European objects like Dad-humour 1990s souvenir towels (“The ideal European is…cooking as a Brit, as funny as a German!”) attempt to bind and comparatively define European nations and identities.
While the exhibitions are rather sparse, take time to wander the building’s larger collections, the Ethnographic Museum and Asian Art Museum, all accessible with the entry ticket (€6/3).