The Military Historical Museum of the Bundeswehr ( MHM) sees itself primarily not as a museum devoted to the history of technology, but as a historical museum. Its purpose is to provide information about our history, to prompt people to ask questions and to offer a variety of answers - as a museum without pathos which endeavours to combine reflection on history and critical debate. It is more of a house encouraging thinking than one attempting to endow meaning. Focused on this objective, the Military Historical Museum of the Bundeswehr tries to break new ground both in what it contains and how it is constructed.
In 2002 American architect Daniel Libeskind was commissioned to fundamentally reconstruct the old building from the 1870s and add a new one. The wedge-shaped, asymmetric new building he designed penetrates the massive old building with its classical layout. A transparent front of metal lamellas overlies the historical structure.
The new building provides room for large and bulky heavy exhibits. Here, form follows function. And at the same time, there are codings regarding the contents which make the building itself the first and largest item of the exhibition. The wedge becomes an instrument of force severing the arsenal, a thorn, a symbol of war and pain, the counterpoint to the war-symbolism of the arsenal.
Libeskind''s new building is not just architecture, it is a sculpture, a social sculpture - as Joseph Beuys would say - where people meet, argue, discuss, learn and walk, eat and drink. The Museum is a lively place, a history workshop and think-tank all in one, which gives room for people to form their own opinions and to make their own temporary museum.
The multiperspectivity of the permanent exhibition with its branching out into social history and cultural history offers many ways to interpret German military history. The new exhibition focuses on the human being, the anthropological side of violence. The military is just the famous tip of an iceberg whose centre of gravity is far below the water line in the field of anthropology and the cultural history of man.
Visitors are offered two main openings to military history, each clearly separated from the other in terms of both space and method. On the one hand, there is the classical chronological tour, the journey in time in the wings of the historical arsenal building and, on the other hand, there is the thematic cross-section, the theme tour in the new building designed by Daniel Libeskind.
One showroom of the new building for example is completely dedicated to the topic of War and Remembrance. Each human being is full of memories. But it is not only individuals who form a memory; communities do so as well. Another floor is dedicated to the topics of the Military and Society and Politics and Force. The relations between the military and civilian worlds are manifold. The visitors find in this floor sub-topics like the Military and Language, the Military and Music, the Military and Fashion, and War and Play. Ambivalence as a basic concept in exhibiting and contextualizing objects can be explored here very well by looking at a doll''s house that was built in 1944 and belonged to an English girl. The girl lived in London and had made her doll''s house fit for war by blackening the windows, preparing gas-proof cots for her baby dolls, and setting up a so-called "Anderson shelter" in the garden. As you stand in front of the doll's house and see in the background the imposing form of a 16 meter tall V2-rocket, the presentation makes the V2-rocket tangible in all its ambivalence. On the one hand it is regarded as a technical marvel and at the starting point for civilian space travel, while on the other hand it was developed and used in World War II as a weapon against the civilian populations of London and Antwerp. More people died not from the weapon itself, but rather from brutal forced labour in the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp, where the V2 was built underground starting in January 1944.
Other topics displayed in the wedge are the Formation of Bodies, Animals and the Military and Suffering from War. The close link between the military and civilian use of technical developments is explained to the visitor in a wing on the ground floor entitled the Military and Technology. There is also the topical complex of Protection and Destruction which deals with the competition between fire and stone, protective and destructive weapons throughout the centuries.
The chronology tour starts on the ground floor of the western wing of the old building spanning from the late Middle Ages to 1914. The exhibition is arranged on different levels and offers different "depths of information". The first floor houses similar areas devoted to the World War Era of 1914 to 1945 and the period from 1945 to the present.
Variable special exhibitions in different areas and events like discussions, film talks, multimedia presentations, concerts, poetry slams and other formats amend the new permanent exhibition since its opening in 2011.
Experiences in the long process of a conceptual and architectual redesign of our house concern its constant advancement according to international museum standarts of restoration, climate control,. and also the importance of a balanced concept of space for permanent and special exhibitions and for different kinds of events and programmes. Of particular importance for the success of our museum proved to be its general orientation as an open minded, science-based historical forum. In contrast to a ''company museum'', that presents mainly official points of view, the Military Historical Museum of the Bundeswehr seeks to encourage creative, open and unbiased discussions and sees itself as a forum for critical examination of military history and for creating a dialog ue on the role of war and the military in the past, present and future.