Opening of Berlin’s flagship Humboldt-Forum museum delayed

News of museum’s technical problems has been a case of deja vu all over again for Berliners

The Humboldt Forum construction site in Berlin which was supposed to open in November.  Photograph: Hayoung Jeon

The Humboldt Forum construction site in Berlin which was supposed to open in November. Photograph: Hayoung Jeon

 

The curse hanging over major German building projects has struck again. Nearly seven years after Berlin’s new airport was scheduled to open – it still hasn’t – another prestige project in the German capital faces an uncertain opening date.

The Humboldt-Forum, a new museum complex in central Berlin and housed in a replica of the former Kaiser palace, was supposed to open its doors in November.

Building work began in 2013 and, six years and €600 million later, the historic structure dynamited by East German leaders in 1950 has risen again from the sandy Berlin soil.

With historic sandstone, dome and carved decorative work on three sides – and a modern front on the fourth – the main tenants will be museums for world cultures, anthropology and ethnology.

But plans to open in five months’ time, with a special exhibition about ivory, were thrown into doubt after many international museums withheld 150 loan items over concerns that the building is still a construction site.

Forum curators have now conceded the air conditioning system – crucial to protect delicate exhibits such as ivory from heat and moisture – is not working and has to be reprogrammed. Meanwhile an emergency exit channel, where wires have been installed too low to allow people pass, will have to be rebuilt.

A new opening date is likely to be announced in two weeks’ time, but Berliners are not holding their breath. One thing is for sure: the complex will not open this year to celebrate the 250th birthday of its name-giver: the polymath, geographer, explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt.

Controversial

The project has been controversial for the start. Some Berliners argued dismissed as reactionary architecture the facsimile of the vanished Prussian palace. Among former East Berliners, feelings were mixed over the demolition on the same site of the Palast der Republik, a former parliament and entertainment complex.

Others say the complex concept is still vague and have criticised curators for, in their eyes, doing too little provenance research on exhibition objects linked to colonial exploitation and cultural looting.

News of problems with the museum’s technical equipment has been a case of deja vu all over again for Berliners.

New airport

They are the laughing stock of the country over their new airport, Berlin-Brandenburg International, that may or may not open next year: nine years late and more than double the original cost.

In 2012, just 26 days before the proposed move, Berlin’s city government, responsible for building the airport, called off the opening. It cited fire safety concerns and problems with equipment to extract smoke from the building.

The more engineers explored the airport in Berlin’s southeast, the more they discovered how much of it diverged from blueprints and had to be reconstructed.

Similar cost overruns plagued Hamburg’s new philharmonic hall, which opened seven years late and three times over budget in 2017. The cost of Stuttgart’s railway station renovation has doubled to €8 billion and counting, and is two years behind schedule. The common read running through Germany’s construction woes is less Vorsprung durch Technik and more: behind through engineering.