The member organizations of the international NGO alliance “No Humboldt 21!” urge the German government, the Berlin Senate and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin/Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (SMB/SPK) to increase transparency regarding non-European human remains and cultural objects with special significance for the societies of origin.
28.1.2014 Press release of the international campaign alliance “No Humboldt 21! Moratorium for the Humboldt Forum in the Berlin Palace”.
Thousands of dead in Berlin?
The federal and state governments should finally provide information about the exact number, origin and whereabouts of human remains from around the world and offer their return.
The member organizations of the international NGO alliance “No Humboldt 21!” urge the German government, the Berlin Senate and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin/Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (SMB/SPK) to increase transparency regarding non-European human remains and cultural objects with special significance for the societies of origin. During the period of European colonialism, thousands of human bones and hundreds of thousands of cultural objects from all parts of the world were shipped to Berlin for racist research purposes. To this day, they are scientifically studied here without the knowledge and consent of the descendants and societies of origin.
The campaign alliance, formed predominantly by migrant-diasporic self-organizations, demands that Berlin’s museums and collections respect the
the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
and compliance with the Ethical Guidelines of the International Council of Museums (ICOM). It explicitly calls for respectful treatment of the representatives of the societies of origin, the greatest possible transparency, and museum activities to clarify the circumstances of acquisition and to repatriate human remains and objects of particular cultural significance.
Regardless of this, those politically responsible are currently making contradictory statements about the whereabouts of the non-European human remains, the number of which they are concealing. For example, on November 8, 2013, in response to a small question from the opposition, the federal government announced: “The former Charité collection of human remains is currently preserved and administered by the Museum of Prehistory and Early History of the National Museums in Berlin. Only a few bones awaiting their return to Namibia would have remained at the Charité. (Printed Matter 18/37)
The recently published conference volume “Sammeln, Erforschen, Zurückgeben? (eds. Holger Stoecker, Thomas Schnalke, Andreas Winkelmann) also states that the Rudolf Virchow Collection of the Berlin Society for Anthropology, Ethnology and Prehistory is also stored in the depot of the National Museums in Berlin-Friedrichshagen and made available for research. In total, this would mean that the mortal remains of about 10,000 people would be stored in the SMB/SPK facilities, according to the literature. In his contribution, Heiko Wegmann points out that the Berlin collections also included numerous human remains from the former colony of “German East Africa” (expedition of the Duke of Mecklenburg, 1907-1908).
Contrary to this, an SMB/SPK response email dated Jan. 16, 2014, to a formal request from Tanzanian-German organizations confirms the possession of 23,000 cultural objects from East Africa, but denies the presence of human remains from Tanzania in SMB/SPK facilities. The SMB/SPK, it is generally stated, “would not have an anthropological inventory.” As far as non-European human remains are concerned, however, the foundation’s management basically has the attitude that these “objects” would represent “to this day” an “invaluably important basis for research into these cultures and ways of life and for communicating the knowledge gained to an international public.”
“Instead of credibly and out of their own willingness signaling the will to return, those politically responsible are placing themselves in the succession of colonial racist collectors and researchers such as Bastian, von Luschan, Virchow and Fischer through their undignified game of hide-and-seek and their macabre clinging to human bones and cultural treasures,” says Christian Kopp of Berlin Postkolonial. Aliou Sangaré, Secretary General of the Central Council of the African Community in Germany, emphasizes: “We want to finally have clarity about the exact number and whereabouts of the remains of our ancestors transported to Berlin. We want to know how hundreds of thousands of our cultural treasures got here. And we will not rest until they are returned to their homeland.”
Contact: Aliou Sangaré, Central Council of the African Community in Germany e.V., firstname.lastname@example.org, 0511/9805977
Christian Kopp, Berlin Postkolonial e.V., email@example.com, 01799 100 976
Commemorative march: 22.02.2014 at 11:30 am at the subway station Mohrenstraße