The Humboldt-Forum. The usage plan for the new palace of Berlin

On July 4, 2002 the German Bundestag decided upon a new guiding concept for the configuration of the center of Berlin. It envisions a unified usage plan for the Museum island and the Palace which will cause them to mutually supplement each other for the benefit and improvement of both.

The long held idea of the Enlightenment from the early 19th century is to be revived. By combining the Museum Island and the Palace, there will arise in Berlin’s center  under the name, “The Humboldt Forum”  a so-called “Free State of Art, Science and Communication” to be located on the authentic original location of the Palace, opposite the successful Museum Island, with its spectrum of european collections from the earliest high cultures of the Near East and Egypt to the unique collections of works of the 19th century in the old National Gallery. At the heart of this concept stands the transformation of the Palace and Museum Island area into a world class center of the arts and culture as well as science. A large top quality events and conference center will supply the communications needs of this undertaking and will be at the service of decision makers but above all the general public.


Museum of East Asian Art

The Ethnological Museum with the arts and folklore of Africa and the Americas, the Museum of East Asian Art and the Museum of Indian Art will move from the suburb of Dahlem into the Palace. Togther with the scientific collections of Humboldt University and the non-european literary resources of the Central and the State libraries, they will combine to form a universal forum of research and world knowledge.

This concept has given the debate about the Palace a whole new character and garnered new proponents for the idea of rebuilding it. Indeed, it  has led directly to the Bundestag’s decision to reconstruct the Berlin Palace.

The magic formula is:  “The World in the Middle of Berlin”

The evolution of the state museums from the art and curiosity chambers of the previous palace and the transformation in the 19th century of the Museum Island into a “free state of art and science” will thereby be completed.  A look at the present day situation of the Palace area shows an empty void in the midst of a unique network of science (Humboldt University, State Library), art (Museum Island, Friedrichswerer Church and former Academy of Architecture) and politics (Foreign Office, “Red” City Hall, and Museum of German History).  The Humboldt Forum as an art and science center for all important event requirements at all times of the day will be at the heart of these offerings, and will be completely in accord with the motto of the Museum Island Festival: “All the Arts without End”

Supplementing  the unique collections of European art from six millenia  presently housed on the Museum Island, the non-european collections of the State Museums of Berlin will contribute to the idea of a “universal museum” with a flexible, multimdia exhibition program.

The subjects dealt with will range from the castles and palaces of Africa, Central America, and Asia, and the human societies of the various continents to the concept of “Non-Europe” its history and future. The museums, their treasures, their masterpieces and their philosphy of collecting will play the central role.

The Enthnological Museum which has over 500,000 objects, photos, films and recordings making it on of the largest and most important museums of its kind in the world

In this vision of the various museums, their relationship to the European collections on the Museum island is ever-present. Just the interplay of the two museum complexes demonstrates the identity of the State Museums as a “universal museum”  which in the future will bring the arts and cultures of the whole world together in one place in the middle of Berlin. Thus, the master plan for the Museum Island and the one for the Palace area will constitute an intellectual unity.


Immer gegenwärtig in dieser Museums-Vision ist der Bezug zu den europäischen Sammlungen der Museumsinsel. Erst das Zusammenspiel der beiden Museumskomplexe erweist die geistige Identität der Staatlichen Museen als Universalmuseum, das in Zukunft die Künste und Kulturen der ganzen Welt an einem Ort – in der Mitte Berlins – zusammenführt. Der Masterplan Museumsinsel und der Masterplan Schloss-Areal bilden somit eine gedankliche Einheit.

Science Museum

Founded in 1810, the Humboldt Univeristy has its roots in the Leibnitz Society founded by Friedrich I and in the Academy of Sciences. Following the Potsdam Edict of Tolerance in 1685, refugees, including many Calvinists, Huguenots, jews, and people from Salzburg,  came  from all the important countries of Europe to Berlin. As a rule they were people who were repressed in their home countries who wanted to realize their spiritual goals and ideals of freedom in enlightened Prussia-Brandenburg. Their skills in science resulted in Prussia becoming the leader in Europe in scientific innovation. A final highpoint  of this development occurred at the beginning of the 20th century when the largest number of Nobel prize winners lived in Berlin and worked in the Berlin  colleges, a role which today has been taken over by Harvard University in Boston USA because of the exodus after 1933.

The Rudolf Virchow Collection

Humboldt University thus posseses the most important scientific collection because of ist rich scientific tradition. It will likewise be displayed in the Humboldt Forum. Because the museums will not be using any areas of the Palace for storage, there will be an additional 13,000 square meters of space available to carry out the Forum concept. Here, offices are planned for leasing. Top priority will be given to the Berlin bureaus of major scientific organizations, for example, the Max -Planck- Society, The German Research Society, and among others, UNESCO.


Provincial and central library Berlin

All together, there will thus be established an efficient public fondation for a completely newly formulated, integratedd intellectual partnership of the State Museums of Berlin, the Humboldt University and the Central and State Libraries.

The Humboldt Forum, through its presentation of the key aspects of non-European art, culture and science, in effect, anticipates the discussion of our future intellectual development in the framework of globaization.

Because globalization brings with it the interconnection of political and scientific processes using a common technical jargon, it leads to a kind of uniformity among cultures with the consequent loss of a basic understanding of the “differentness” of foreign cultures and the ways of thinking of foreign peoples. Only those who know these differences and take account of them in their commercial dealings can operate successfully in the world market.

Thus, Germany will obtain a capital whose center is dedicated to the future based on a knowledge of the past. The concept of a new Berlin envisions a metropolis founded on understanding among all peoples through art, culture and knowledge. This is the fundamental progammatic theme of the Humboldt Forum, the new core of Berlin. It wil not only rehabilitate the center of one of Europe’s ancient cultural cities, destroyed by war and political despotism, it will also realize a ground breaking concept for its use. In this context, the idea of the: “AGORA” CONFERENCE AND EVENTS CENTER is also unique, namely as a magnificent international meeting place for people from society, politics, business, culture and science. The Agora will occupy 14,000 square meters of the main usage areas or 20% of the total space in the Palace. A meeting center directly in the heart of a place dedicated to culture and science is truly unique in the world and offers unimaginable synergies in the interplay of personal encounters and cultural exchanges and experiences. 

With the Schlueterhof at the center of the Agora as the most elegant and beautiful festival hall of Berlin, and with a wealth of other meeting, concert and multifunctinal rooms, both large and small, the Agora, together with the Humboldt Forum, will indeed be the lively heart of central Berlin, a place where the lights will practically never be turned off. Thousands of people will seek it out for the most varied events, not the least of which will be their own personal enjoyment.

‘World. City. Berlin’ exhibition

This exhibition will create a high footfall sub-structure for the completely reformulated, integrated intellectual partnership between the Berlin State Museums, Humboldt University and the City of Berlin.

It will show the influence that the wider world had on Berlin, which, of course, since the immigration of numerous European refugees from the 17th century through to this day became a German melting pot of all sorts of different ethnic groups – and how Berlin could thus also serve as an example for solving the problems of globalisation.

The concept for the exhibition is yet to be finalised, but is due to be unveiled in winter 2015/16. The previous plans to involve the Berlin Central and State Library in the Humboldt Forum, with among other elements a language laboratory, were dropped in spring 2015.

The public debate on the future of our intellectual development within the context of globalisation is anticipated by the Humboldt Forum of non-European art, cultures and sciences in its key aspects:
interdisciplinary and international in nature and accessible to all.

interdisciplinary and international in nature and accessible to all.

Through the interlinking of political and business processes using uniform jargon, globalisation led to standardisation and to the loss of basic understanding for the otherness of foreign cultures and thus of how the peoples of other countries think. To be successful in the world market you have to know this jargon and integrate it into how you operate.

The Humboldt Forum thus aims convey to people a better understanding of the otherness of different cultures. Only if you know the roots of other countries’ culture can you understand it. It will be in contrast to the so-called ‘clash of civilisations’, the mainly negatively conveyed globalisation debate, which is based on fears that in turn are largely based on ignorance. This becomes highly visible in the media at every G7 summit venue. In the shape of the Humboldt Forum, Berlin will thus also be able to make a contribution to conciliation between cultures.

Germany is thus getting a capital city with a centre that – based on cognisance of the past – is dedicated to the future. The vision of the New Berlin thus lies also in a city of international understanding achieved via art, culture and knowledge. This is the main message of the forum of new central Berlin – of the Humboldt Forum. Thus not only is the centre of one of Europe’s old cultural cities, badly damaged by war and political despotism, being restored, a new, ground-breaking concept, including in terms of its use, is also being created.

Diverse, public event areas are being integrated into the Humboldt Forum on the ground floor in order to provide space for the debate and also for the performing arts, such as drama and music on an international scale. The Humboldt Forum is thus becoming a unique international place of encounter and interaction with world culture.

Artistic Direction Team


Neil MacGregor


Hermann Parzinger


Horst Bredekamp

The Federal Government has appointed a three-strong artistic direction team to determine the Humboldt Forum’s programme and internal design. The team is headed up by Neil MacGregor, until now director of the British Museum in London. Prof. Dr. Hermann Parzinger, President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation and thus a main user of the Humboldt Forum, and art historian Prof. Dr. Horst Bredekamp of Humboldt University are the other two, equal-ranking members of the team,
which will take up its work in autumn 2015. The artistic direction triumvirate has initially been appointed until October 2017. There is provision in place to extend this period of office beyond the Berlin Palace – Humboldt Forum’s official opening.

The team’s tasks include above all creating an holistic framework that also integrates the large event level on the ground floor into the overall concept.

One initial, very difficult task for team will be, after presenting an artistic content plan, to secure the necessary financial resources for it until at least 2025. The anticipated costs are at least €50 million a year. That is not excessive, if you consider that the Museum of Metropolitan Art in New York has an annual budget of over 100 million dollars. Its concept is similar to that of the Humboldt Forum, in that it too exhibits art from all over the world. Doing so, the museum attracts more than 10 million visitors a year with admission prices of 15 dollars. The problem for almost all German museums by contrast is that nowhere do they have sufficient resources in order to put on a really fantastic, innovative show, inclusive of numerous special exhibitions.

Only if it does, however, will the Humboldt Forum truly be able to perform the tasks it has been set by the politicians.