Varusschlacht im Osnabrücker Land - Museum und Park Kalkriese

Heidrun Derks

head of Museum Department

Varusschlacht im Osnabrücker Land - Museum und Park Kalkriese

Vennerstr. 69 D-49565 Bramsche Germany

In 2004 the ls"Varusschlacht im Osnabruuml;cker Land - Museum und Park Kalkriese' received the main prize in the category archaeological sites in the competition for the ls"European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage' launched by Europa Nostra and the European Community. The prize was awarded for the "innovative interpretation of an ancient battlefield - which commemorates a decisive event in European history - and for the deciphering and presentation of the scant remains by interdisciplinary scientific research".

Historical Background

In the first century BC the Roman Empire started its expansion towards the North. First Julius Caesar conquered Gallia (58 - 50 B.C.), reached the Rhine and declared the river to be the new frontier of the Roman Empire. Three decades later the military expansion was continued. The new emperor Augustus fortified the frontier along the Rhine and founded the first roman forts. The first military attempts beyond the Rhine started 12 B.C. Roman troops invaded Germania. Several expeditions and military campaigns were carried out. In 7 A.D. Romans believed that Germania was conquered and ready to become a roman province. Publius Quinctilius Varus was sent to Germania to organise the last step: the "administrative conquest". But in 9 A.D. Varus and his three legions, auxiliary troops and baggage were lured by Germanic tribes into an ambush and totally annihilated. Varus committed suicide. A few years the attempts to conquer Germania ceased and the troops were withdrawn. The tragic defeat stopped the Roman expansion into Northern Europe.

With the discovery of ancient literature in the 15th and 16th century the "Varusbattle" took off for a second victory - it became a political myth. The enthusiasm reached its peak in the 19th century, when Arminius, the leader of the victorious Germanic warriors was celebrated as a national hero. But soon after the foundation of the "Deutsche Reich" in 1871 the glory of Arminius and the Varusbattle started to fade. Thus the Varusbattle is not only a key event of European history, but also a perfect example of the political encumbrance of historical events in the process of nation building in the 19th century.

The discovery

In 1987/88 the discovery of roman coins and several roman sling shots on the Oberesch in Kalkriese attracted the attention of archaeologists. Since 1989 the site has been under continuous archaeological and scientific research and more than 20.000 m2 have been excavated. The archaeological evidence for the famous battle covers an area of almost 50 km2 and includes a 400m long rampart, built in a strategically ideal position to serve as a trap and an ambush, human bones with traces of fatal injuries, and thousands of fragments of roman military equipment.

The development

From the first day on, the excavations aroused enormous public interest. 1993 a first provisional information center (30m2) was opened in an existing building. In 1996 the centre was extended and off ered 200m2 exhibition space. But soon this turned out to be too small. In 1998 an international architectural competition was launched. The task was, to develop a concept for a new museum building with an archaeological park covering an area of almost 22 hectare.

The philosophy

The award went to Guyer/Gigon, Ch-Zurich (Architecture) and Zulauf   Partner GmbH, Ch-Baden (Landscape Architecture). Their concept approaches the site in an artistic manner, avoids a detailed and seemingly authentic reconstruction of place and event and uses abstract means like symbols and metaphors. This sets high demands on the visitors but provokes a refl ective discussion of the concept, the place, the history and the Varusbattle. For an archaeological museum this meant breaking new territory as this approach questions the general philosophy of presenting archaeological facts and artefacts.

History isn't constituted by facts but fi rst of all of questions - this turned out to be the underlying idea of all our presentations. The design off ers a frame for these questions without off ering or even suggesting ready made answers or images. Abstract means articulate a historic distance. The most obvious element of this philosophy is provided by the architectural language, the construction and the material - a simple steel frame construction covered with weather resistant construction steel, easily recognized as a modern intervention.

The permanent exhibition follows the same philosophy. No model, no picture or fi lm visualizes the tragic defeat. Instead of confronting the visitor with a descriptive summary of facts and results, he is himself thrown into the process of investigation and becomes part of a criminal story. "What happened in Kalkriese 2000 years ago?" - is the main question. The guiding "detective" invites the visitor to follow him into a labyrinth of clues, to discover meaningful traces, to evaluate the arguments and to participate in the interpretation of the site.

Experiences and problems

Since the opening in 2002 the museum has had more than half a million visitors, although it is located in the middle of the countryside. The house is run by a limited company with charitable status. Financing is a mixture of fi xed grants, tickets and shop sales, and sponsorships. The income from our visitors covers about 40%25 of the annual costs. Nonetheless the economical situation has turned out to be a continuous problem. To maintain the scientifi c research and to keep the specifi c philosophy and quality standards will be the main challenge of the future.


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