Calls grow for national design museum

Despite the worldwide acclaim German-designed products receive, there's no national museum for design. But that could soon change.

Calls grow for national design museum

Germany is renowned for great design: from Bauhaus to Dieter Rams’ work for Braun, it has helped shape the country both economically and visually. So it’s perhaps surprising that there is no central museum to showcase one of Germany’s most impressive export industries.

But the National German Design Council has started a campaign to rectify the omission. A foundation has been formed, plans are being drawn up and a somewhat controversial proposal has been made. They want to see a future German Design Museum right in the heart of Berlin. And they want it on the same spot where the the city’s destroyed royal palace is supposed to be built on the centrally located Schlossplatz.

The privately owned Vitra Design museum in Baden-Württemberg currently hosts temporary exhibitions, while regional applied arts museums cover parts of German design, but there is nothing comprehensive. The proposed museum would serve as a central hub for all things representing quintessentially Teutonic design.

The Design Council, founded in 1953, has around 170 members whose expertise cover a wide variety of fields ranging from design itself, to economics. From it, the German Design Museum Foundation was created as a platform for experts in design to collect and discuss ideas for the new museum.

Several prominent figures from Germany’s creative scene are already on the foundation board. And in the spring there will be a symposium to discuss a more concrete plan, as the project is still in the brainstorming stage.

The editor in chief of arts magazine “Monopol”, Holger Liebs, has made an impassioned plea on the foundation website, calling for a centre that “will exhibit design as a whole, not just pieces that have already gained international fame.”

Berlin-based artist and author Rafael Horzon added to the debate. “Up until now, design whether it is blueprints, sketches or models, hasn’t been paid much attention in the museum world,” he said recently.

“However, it plays a part in every level of society,” he said. “From the cars that we drive daily and the tables and chairs we sit at, to the televisions and computers that we look at every day.”

He also outlined his belief in the power of good design to change society, something, he feels, art fails to do. “It is not art that belongs in a museum, it is design,” he claimed.

It was Horzon who initially floated the idea of the museum being built on Schlossplatz in Berlin, instead of the controversial city’s palace which he feels “no-one really wants.”

Horzon has also been working on ideas for the appearance of the museum since July, his current one being a glass sphere 500 metres in diameter.

“Obviously the museum would display the legacy and importance of German design throughout history,” Horzon said.

“However it should demonstrate contemporary talent as well, and move away from the preconception that design is just raw steel furniture and sketches of cups.”

DPA/The Local/jcw

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German town resurrects 400-year-old biblical play tradition

Walk around the German Alpine village of Oberammergau, and the chances are you'll run into Jesus or one of his 12 disciples.

German town resurrects 400-year-old biblical play tradition

Of the 5,500 people living there, 1,400 — aged from three months to 85 — are participating this year in the once-a-decade staging of an elaborate “Passion Play” depicting the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Dating back to 1634, the tradition has persisted through four centuries of wars, religious turmoil and pandemics — including the most recent Covid-19 crisis which caused the show to be postponed by two years.

“I think we’re a bit stubborn,” says Frederic Mayet, 42, when asked how the village has managed to hold on to the tradition.

Mayet, who is playing Jesus for the second time this year, says the Passion Play has become a big part of the town’s identity.

Oberammergau Passion Plays

Posters for the 42nd Oberammergau Passion Play – which was originally scheduled to take place in 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmth

The only prerequisite for taking part in the five-hour show, whether as an actor, chorister or backstage assistant, is that you were born in Oberammergau or have lived here for at least 20 years.

“I remember that we talked about it in kindergarten. I didn’t really know what it was about, but of course I wanted to take part,” says Cengiz Gorur, 22, who is playing Judas.

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‘Hidden talent’ 

The tradition, which dates back to the Thirty Years’ War, was born from a belief that staging the play would help keep the town safe from disease.

Legend has it that, after the first performance, the plague disappeared from the town.

In the picturesque Alpine village, Jesus and his disciples are everywhere — from paintings on the the facades of old houses to carved wooden figures in shop windows.

You also can’t help feeling that there is a higher-than-average quota of men with long hair and beards wandering the streets.

Religious figurines Oberammergau

Religious figurines adorn a shop window in Oberammergau. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

An intricate image of Jesus graces the stage of the open-air Passion Play theatre, where the latest edition of the show is being held from mid-May to October 2nd.

“What has always fascinated me is the quality of the relationship between all the participants, young and old. It’s a beautiful community, a sort of ‘Passion’ family,” says Walter Lang, 83.

He’s just sad that his wife, who died in February, will not be among the participants this year.

“My parents met at a Passion Play, and I also met my future wife at one,” says Andreas Rödl, village mayor and choir member.

Gorur, who has Turkish roots, was spotted in 2016 by Christian Stückl, the head of the Munich People’s Theatre who will direct the play for the fourth time this year.

“I didn’t really know what to do with my life. I probably would have ended up selling cars, the typical story,” he laughs.

Now, he’s due to start studying drama in Munich this autumn.

“I’ve discovered my hidden talent,” he says.

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Violence, poverty and sickness

Stückl “has done a lot for the reputation of the show, which he has revolutionised” over the past 40 years, according to Barbara Schuster, 35, a human resources manager who is playing Mary Magdalene.

“Going to the Passion Play used to be like going to mass. Now it’s a real theatrical show,” she says.

In the 1980s, Stückl cut all the parts of the text that accused the Jews of being responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, freeing the play from anti-Semitic connotations.

“Hitler had used the Passion Play for his propaganda,” Schuster points out.


Christian Stückl, the director of the Oberammergau Passion Play, holds a press conference announcing the cancellation of the play in 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

The play’s themes of violence, poverty and sickness are reflected in today’s world through the war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic, say Mayet, the actor playing Jesus.

“Apparently we have the same problems as 2,000 years ago,” he says.

For 83-year-old Lang, who is playing a peasant this year, the “Hallelujah” after Christ has risen for the final time in October will be a particularly moving moment.

“Because we don’t know if we’ll be there again next time,” he says, his eyes filling with tears.

By Isabelle Le Page