Berlin state library displays treasures for 350th anniversary

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Amrit Naresh - [email protected]
Berlin state library displays treasures for 350th anniversary
Photo: DPA

In celebration of its 350-year anniversary, Berlin's state library has sent some of its most prized pieces – including a Gutenberg Bible from 1456 – to the German Historical Museum (DHM) for a three-month exhibition.


Founded in 1611 and possessing over 10,800,000 printed publications, the library has loaned some of its more famous artefacts to the DHM show “A Library Makes History.”

Set among the museum’s dazzling array of items from the past two millenia, the library’s 1456 Gutenberg Bible, locked in a display case near the centre of the hall, appears almost ordinary at first glance.

But the flawless specimen of Gutenberg's printing revolution is insured for €25 million, if anyone doubts its cultural import.

For museum spokesman Dr. Rudolf Trabold, the presence of the Bible – just one of the exhibition's exceptional pieces – helps visitors appreciate their place in history.

“Our goal is to display the artefacts not just on their own terms, but in their full historical context,” Trabold told The Local.

“The library loaned us the Gutenberg, hand-written manuscripts by Frederick the Great, Bach and Mozart – and you can only understand them in relation to other facets of their time.”

The library’s most prized items will join the Historical Museum's permanent collection for the next three months, a move intended to help them reach a broader audience.

Click here for a photo gallery of the exhibition.

Klaus Hinkel, visiting the museum with his 11-year-old son, told The Local he appreciated the museum’s scope and its incorporation of the library’s works.

“I’ve been here many times before, and I think the museum did a fine job of integrating the library’s pieces into its collection,” he said. “For my son, it presents a massive history in a way that’s easy to digest, and it makes it easy to find connections between artefacts from the same era.”

The Gutenberg Bible, for example, lies adjacent to the museum’s 95 Theses of Martin Luther, a placement Trabold put into the context of Luther’s Protestant reformation and its dependence on the printing press, popularized by Gutenberg, to spread its message.

Then there is the library’s 1555 diagram of new military strategy, composed by a Prussian duke, hanging adjacent to a shining suit of armour whose code of knightly battle it eventually replaced.

A few steps away is a handwritten letter from Frederick the Great to French thinker Voltaire, positioned next to an original composition by Johann Sebastian Bach that was commissioned by the Prussian king.

Of the library's priceless inventory of millions of publications, manuscripts and microforms, the hundred or so items on loan to the museum represent the cream of the crop.

But the Gutenberg Bible, one of the finest of only 21 originals remaining worldwide, is undeniably the prize catch.

“The book’s parchment is so light-sensitive it can be displayed for only a few months before being returned to five years of total darkness,” Dr. Trabold said.

“It’s special to see it in its true historical context, but it won’t be on display for long. It’s been around for over 500 years, and we hope to help it last for at least another 500.”

“A Library Makes History” runs until June 19 at the German Historical Museum in Berlin. Guided tours are also offered.


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