The quiet German taking over the British Museum

A German art historian was named Tuesday as the next director of the British Museum, becoming the first foreigner to head the prestigious London institution in 150 years.

The quiet German taking over the British Museum
Hartwig Fischer. Photo: DPA

Hartwig Fischer, 53, who is currently director general of the Dresden State Art Collections in eastern Germany, will take up the post in the first half of 2016.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has confirmed the appointment ahead of incumbent Neil MacGregor's retirement in December, the museum said.

“I never dreamt that I would be invited to be responsible for this great British institution and I am conscious that nobody could fail to grasp what the British Museum represents not only for the UK but for the whole world,” he said, adding “It's an honour”.

The British Museum's chairman of trustees, Richard Lambert, hailed Fischer as “one of the outstanding museum directors in the world”.

“He is not only a great scholar, but an experienced administrator and a gifted linguist with a global reputation for rethinking and representing great collections.”

Linguist and scholar

Born in 1962 in the northern city of Hamburg, Fischer studied art history, history and archaeology in Paris, Rome, Berlin and Bonn, where he defended his thesis in 1994 on the German painter and sculptor Hermann Prell.

Fischer, who speaks four languages including English, French and Italian besides his native German, began his career in 2001 at Switzerland's Kunstmuseum in Basel where he was curator of 19th century and modern art.

In 2006, he was named head of Folkwang Museum in western Germany's Essen.

There he oversaw several major exhibitions, including one dedicated to art branded as “degenerate” by the Nazis, including works by Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse.

In May 2012, he took the reins of the State Art Collections in Dresden from Martin Roth, who also left for London, to head the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The 53-year-old Fischer's departure for London is “a real shock and a great loss” for the city and its cultural institutions, said the daily Die Welt, highlighting his academic and professional qualities.

He was a “control freak who wants a say on the tiniest detail,” said the newspaper, which added that Fischer was “just as appreciated for his qualities as a serious researcher who treasures content, didacticism and new niche themes”.

'A workaholic'

Even when he took the top job in Dresden, Fischer was a little known character beyond the arts world, with Die Welt then writing: “Hartwig who?”

But Wilhelm Krull, general secretary of the Volkswagen Foundation, which led the appointment committee, then said: “No other candidate knew as well as him how to link the 12 divisions of the museum together, to spark synergies for new exhibitions and cooperation.”

The institution today receives about 2.5 million visitors annually.

That is dwarfed by the 6.7 million people who trooped to the British Museum last year.

But the former director of the London-based National Portrait Gallery, Sandy Nairne, told the Guardian newspaper that the quality of the Dresden collection is “refined, distinguished and vast”.

And that is proof that Fischer is capable of leading an institution like the British Museum, added Nairne.

Fischer described himself as someone who “prioritizes action rather than words”, while German news agency DPA called him “quiet, intellectual and a workaholic”.

He had given a hint of his vision for a museum on International Museum Day in May, saying that the State Art Collections' “museums are social spaces”.

“Spaces where artists, works of art, visitors and museum staff can encounter each other. In art, it is unthinkable to have boundaries or set limits.” 

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German police arrest fugitive twin over Dresden museum heist

German police said Tuesday they have arrested one of two fugitive twin brothers from the so-called Remmo clan wanted over their suspected role in snatching priceless jewels from a museum in the city of Dresden.

German police arrest fugitive twin over Dresden museum heist
Archive photo from April 2019 shows the Jewellery Room of the Green Vault. Photo: DPA

The 21-year-old suspect was detained in Berlin on Monday evening over what local media have dubbed one of the biggest museum heists in modern history, a spokesman for the police in the eastern city of Dresden said.

The twins had eluded German authorities when they carried out raids last month and arrested three members of the Remmo clan, a family of Arab origin notorious for its ties to organised crime.

Police then named them as 21-year-old Abdul Majed Remmo and Mohammed Remmo.

All five suspects are accused of “serious gang robbery and two counts of arson,” Dresden prosecutors said.

Police did not immediately name the arrested twin. His brother remains on the run.

The robbers launched their brazen raid lasting eight minutes on the Green Vault museum in Dresden's Royal Palace on November 25th, 2019.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about the Dresden museum heist

Having caused a partial power cut and broken in through a window, they snatched priceless 18th-century jewellery and other valuables from the collection of the Saxon ruler August the Strong.

Items stolen included a sword whose hilt is encrusted with nine large and 770 smaller diamonds, and a shoulderpiece which contains the famous 49-carat Dresden white diamond, Dresden's Royal Palace said.

The Remmos were previously implicated in another stunning museum robbery in the heart of Berlin in which a 100-kilogramme gold coin was stolen.

Investigators last year targeted the family with the seizure of 77 properties worth a total of €9.3 million, charging that they were purchased with the proceeds of various crimes, including a 2014 bank robbery.

READ ALSO: €1 million gold coin stolen from iconic Berlin museum