Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum – Kulturen der Welt

Jutta Engelhard and Klaus Schneider

Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum – Cultures of the World

Cäcilienstrasse 29-33 50667 Cologne


Cologne, Germany
The Council of Europe Museum Prize 2012

Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum - Kulturen der Welt


Having originally opened in 1906 Cologne's Anthropological Museum is now housed in a new building: In October 2010 it finally was presented to the public - now featuring 5 000 msup2; of exhibition space, a multi-functional hall for conferences and events, a public library, a shop, a bistro, modern workshops and storerooms.
The permanent exhibition covers an area of 3 600 square meters. It presents a multitude of the museum's treasures from all over the world collected at different times and with different interests. Visitors are invited to take part in a journey of discovery of a special kind, to encounter new and old, foreign and familiar worlds and to enjoy an active experience that appeals to all senses.

The innovative concept is a departure from the usual presentation of major geographical regions in comparable museums. Instead, the Cologne exhibition follows a thematic arrangement: People in Their Worlds is at the centre of this approach. The theme-based presentation pursues questions about ways of life across space and time. These are themes which link and affect people throughout the world, but which they approach in their own way depending on the characteristics of their region and culture. The comparative approach emphasises the diversity, equality and validity of all cultures and provides impulses for thought and stimulating dialogue; the inclusion of our own culture puts our own viewpoint into perspective. 

Peoples in Their Worlds welcomes visitors with a prologue and takes leave of them at the end with an epilogue. In between there are two associated theme complexes each covering several topics: Comprehending the World is devoted to four different levels of encounter with different cultures from a European point of view, Shaping the World addresses five topics and conveys a multitude of insights into different forms of organising life throughout the world.

The authentic object, which is kept as part of the cultural heritage of mankind, is at the centre of attention. The design of the presentation uses the media of scenography: Each theme is developed within its own room; the overall appearance of each room, to which the entire interior architectural design contributes as well as the graphics and lighting, underlines the content of the themes.

Hierarchical sets of information enable the visitors to immerse themselves in individual theme areas. 2 000 objects, 2 500 photographs and 50 short films are integrated into the presentation, and a variety of multimedia displays offer manifold possibilities of gaining deeper knowledge. Two different audio guides lead adults through the theme-based presentation and to the highlights of the collection. Hearing-impaired visitors may relay on a video guide. Beyond the museum offers a variety of personally guided tours on demand in German, English and other languages.

Children are specially catered for in the individual sections of the tour. An audio guide for kids is available, and a separate "JuniorMuseum" offers exciting possibilities of exploration especially to young people: A visit to five young protagonists at their homes in their native countries is designed to awaken curiosity about the festivities and rituals that mark the transition from girl to woman and boy to man in other parts of the world.

Events of all kind complement the theme-based presentation. They take place in the multifunctional auditorium or in the spacious foyer. The numerous events enhance the visitor's sensibility for the way other cultures see things and make the museum a place of encounter, dialogue and social participation.

The new concept has proved its validity: Since its opening in late 2010 more than 500 000 people visited the new Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum - Cultures of the World. Due to its innovative approach, professional excellence and high public quality the museum gained a striking number of awards, notably the most prestigious Council of Europe Museum Prize 2012.



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