The first thing that strikes first-time-visitors to our museum is the view from the lobby through the breach in the ceiling up into the 3-storey permanent exhibition. Immediately, everybody realizes: this is not what we expected; this is a cool, beautifully designed, colourful learning machine.
In 2014, the State Museum of Archaeology Chemnitz (smac) opened as the successor to the former Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte in Dresden. For the first time the new museum presents a permanent exhibition on the archaeology of what is now the territory of the Free State of Saxony, a federal state in Germany. The museum is housed in an icon of classic modernism, the former Schocken Department Store. With its exhibitions on Salman Schocken, Erich Mendelsohn and the history of the building itself, the museum fulfils its obligation to the German-Jewish heritage and 20th century history.
SMAC Wall of Everyday Objects on the third floor
"Bow front" exhibitions
The three complementary exhibitions about the life and work of Erich Mendelsohn, the history of the Schocken Company and the Chemnitz department store, and Salman Schocken – who was not only the co-founder and co-owner of the company but also a Zionist, book connoisseur and publisher – merge seamlessly with the main exhibition. They are staged on three floors directly behind Mendelsohn's famous bowed front. Thus, as well as fulfilling its primary purpose as a state archaeological museum, the smac also makes an important contribution towards confronting the darkest period of German history, namely the persecution of the Jews under National Socialism and the resulting loss of Jewish culture.
Inclusion and diversity
In 2017 the smac spent time and money on making the permanent exhibition more accessible, especially to people with visual or acoustic impairments. Furthermore an audio guide in plain language (Leichte Sprache) and a video guide in sign language (Deutsche Gebärdensprache) were introduced. Inside the museum a number of technical aids are available for the use of visitors with mobility impairments.
For the benefit of foreign visitors or people of migrant background, all the texts in the museum are in German and English. The audio guides are in German and English, too, and for the main archaeological exhibition also in Czech. On our family day, children and adults under the guidance of experimental archaeologists can try their hand at a range of prehistoric technologies.
Teaching across subject boundaries is a big issue in secondary schools. For the near future we are preparing programmes that utilize elements of our permanent exhibition for interdisciplinary education. A ld"museum chestrd" (Museumskoffer) containing genuine objects and teaching aids to "Jewish identities in Chemnitz before 1938" is already available. The contents of this chest can be used by school classes or project groups to prepare visits to our "bow front exhibitions" and to the traces of Jewish life within the city.
SMAC Moderator explains a settlement model
Public involvement and temporary exhibitions
The pre-history and history of Saxony cannot be told without the European perspective. Neanderthals were a European phenomenon and the first farmers came here from southeast Europe. In the migration period, different peoples left their traces and today's Saxons might mostly be descendants of Slavic and German speaking settlers from the Middle Ages. The "local" mining industry was in fact already "international" in late medieval times. Applied to the present, this means "We all have a migration background". Thus our slogan "7000 years of Multiculturalism" "Multi-Kulti seit 7000 Jahren") put up in large letters on our façade in 2015 during the swelling public debate on the future role of immigrants ("PEGIDA"-movement) was a political statement. Since 2016 our annually "Meet New Friends" event brings together immigrants and natives. Our small summer 2019 exhibition 2 Million Years of Migration was taken over from the Neanderthal Museum and wanted to be part of the political debates within the city, that took on a new and sometimes disturbing dynamic in the wake of the events of August 2018, when Chemnitz came into the focus of international media. We support an Open Space, run by the Municipal Art Collections and situated behind the famous Karl-Marx-Monument, whose aim it is to bring together people of different political and ethnical background and strengthen dialogue.
In our special exhibition programme we try to promote public appreciation of cultural diversity and address universal issues that are still important today. So far we staged exhibitions on the Archaeology of Vietnam, Money and Death Ritual. Our first special exhibition on Bronze and Iron Age salt mining in Austria linked the important mining tradition of the Erzgebirge Mountains around Chemnitz with its prehistoric forerunners. Last winter we put Saxony Bohemia 7000 on our exhibition stage, which explored the vicinity and distance between these two neighbouring regions in the heart of Europe. Our next large exhibition, Life at the Dead Sea, will open while the Best of Heritage conference is taking place in Dubrovnik. It deals with the archaeology of this very special region which was at the intersection of different cultures and beliefs for at least 12,000 years. Future exhibition projects deal with the city as a global phenomenon and with jewellery and personal adornment in an anthropological perspective.
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