Speech by Minister of State for International Cultural Policy Michelle Müntefering at the opening of the Global Summit of Research Museums

04.11.2018 - Speech

Let us begin where everything started for me – in the Ruhr area, my home, a major mining region in western Germany, where people are “going underground”, “drive in” – “einfahren” is the German term the minors use – for the last time these weeks.

Visitors to the German Mining Museum in Bochum will continue to experience a “blind shaft” in the future. They will get a vivid impression of the coal mining industry, which has shaped the whole region, people’s lives and our country.

Throughout the world, mining continues to impact lives and development, and thus also the history of humanity.

The most modern mining techniques today still come from the Ruhr area.

And by the way, the University of Applied Sciences, where all of this is taught in Bochum, is literally just a “stone’s throw” away.

Times have changed dramatically, not only in the Ruhr area, where discussions are now being held about long-term liabilities and Rehabilitation.

In view of the rapid changes in the world, we are asking ourselves today: Is our perception of nature out of date where humankind is having such a decisive impact on it?

This is, at any rate, at the heart of the Anthropocene thesis, which is a paradigm shift not only in the natural sciences, but it is also blazing new trails in culture, politics and everyday life.

This theses is a subject of lively discussion here in Berlin. Back in 2013-2014, the “Haus der Kulturen der Welt” launched a project entitled “Basic Cultural Research using the means of Art and Science”.

“Transdisciplinary thought processes” is one of the principal keywords here. The aim here is to bring together the huge amount of knowledge that is available to us today in such a way as to create a holistic picture.

And this is urgently needed in view of the state of the world today. We need to address global challenges, such as the spread of digital technology, migration and climate change, and find solutions to these. And we can do this only as a global community.

This is why we need a global view - and be viewed as part of a global community.

All disciplines and each and every profession must leave the comfort zone and involve others, thereby reaching a broader audience at the end of the day. This applies to science, to the media and the world of politics – and also to museums and their role in our society.

This is about the democratisation of knowledge, profound understanding, and the fact that art and science are places of freedom and need freedom in order to flourish.

And that brings me to you and your common objective: research and education. Not only with the goal of collecting and categorising knowledge, but, above all, in order to impart knowledge and to make it accessible.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am currently very much enjoying reading the book “Big History” by David Christian.

In this book he sketches out the history of the past almost 14 billion years in just under 400 pages. So, highly recommended to politicians!

He demonstrates that people are not only able to constantly expand their knowledge, but also to classify it.

Knowledge can be organized in such a way that connections can be identified, and that clear maps of an extremely complex reality can be produced.

This is precisely what the research museums are seeking to do.

I am delighted to be able to welcome members of research museums from over 20 countries from around the world today.

This shows that collection and preservation, research and knowledge-transfer are common concerns that are important to us beyond the borders of countries and cultures.

The Global Summit is an important step in this regard – the prelude to a global network of research museums.

The fact that the Global Summit is being continued with conferences in London and Washington shows – particularly at a time of growing trends towards national isolationism – that there is a great desire for global cooperation.

I congratulate the organisers on this wonderful initiative – the Museum of Natural History in Berlin, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, the Natural History Museum in London and the British Museum.

And I can assure you of the Federal Foreign Office’s support. Because the idea of bringing together stakeholders from a very wide range of countries on the basis of shared research interests is exactly what we do in our science diplomacy.

I firmly believe that international academic exchange forms the foundation for greater knowledge and for modernisation and innovation.

That it

  • reduces cultural prejudices
  • strengthens ties between societies
  • creates long‑term relationships with friends and partners
  • highlights the value of academic freedom
  • and creates scope for researchers.

It’s hard to believe, but some people claim again, that the climate problem is not man-made, or that culture and science can do without international exchange. According to their logic, the earth becomes flat again.

They walk so far to the right, they have to be careful not to fall off the edge of that flat world. This form of nationalism is pure stupidity.

Therefore: Our focus here is not only on cooperation, but also co-production. We are not seeking to “export” culture. Our goal is not to know it all better, but to do it all better, together with others.

It is not only about cooperation between governments, but also about cooperation between societies. Facilitating this is a key task of our international cultural relations and education policy.

By the way, the former chancellor Willy Brandt described this as “Arbeit an der Weltvernunft”. You might know the german term “Weltschmerz”. It means working to strengthen reason as a driving force in the world. We urgently need this work today.

Science diplomacy, with its international networks, is crucial in this context.

That is why we are working with our organisations, for example the German Academic Exchange Service, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the Alliance of Science Organisations in Germany and civil‑society actors such as foundations.

But not only that, we also work with the business sector.

Let me outline four points which are of major importance in our international work in the fields of culture, education and academics.

Firstly, the international culture and science policy strengthens freedom and cooperation.

Unfortunately, the spaces for culture professionals, researchers, intellectuals and journalists seem to get smaller. In a nutshell, we need to help strengthen freedom.

That is why we are extending our programmes for persecuted artists and academics.

We are continuing the Philipp Schwartz Initiative, together with the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

We are using this initiative to give displaced and persecuted academics the opportunity to live and work in Germany.

It also serves as a model for a programme to create spaces for persecuted artists.

At the same time, using the “sur place scholarship programme” operated by the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative (DAFI) and the “Leadership for Syria Programme” run by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), we are opening the way for refugees to continue their academic career in the host country or here in Germany.

Since these programmes were launched, we have been able to improve the prospects of almost 7000 people, prospects of better living conditions in the future.

After all, this is a responsibility rooted in our history, a responsibility that we see as a privilege and as enrichment:

Because the people who come to us and whom we protect bring something with them.

And it is a responsibility rooted in the memory that German intellectuals, artists and academics found refuge all over the world when they were persecuted by the National Socialists.

Secondly, research museums play an important role when it comes to dealing with cultural property originating from “colonial contexts”.

This is a topic that we need to deal with, both globally and in Germany. The Federal Chancellor herself also underlined the importance of this issue recently in a speech.

Here, Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media has above all the task of promoting the origin of cultural property from colonial contexts in museums and collections.

The mandate of the Federal Foreign Office goes even further, as we have the task of “strengthening cultural cooperation” with Africa and promoting stronger “cultural exchange”, as it is laid down in the coalition agreement contract.

Especially by re‑assessing colonialism and establishing museums and cultural institutions in Africa.

We are already working on this mandate. Recently Museum Conversations organised by the Goethe-Institute are taking place in Africa in Kigali, Kinshasa, Ouagadougou, Accra, Johannesburg and Windhoek.

The results of this “museum dialogue” are to be presented at a conference in Kinshasa in 2019 and linked to discourses from other parts of the world.

We are also supporting scientific cooperation in this sphere for example in the form of an exchange between the “Museum für Naturkunde” and the National Museum of Tanzania.

In so doing, we cannot simply offer “ready-made European concepts”, but need to seek dialogue with partners in the countries and societies of origin.

We want to consider together how we can shape the way we approach this sensitive cultural property, and how to enable access to it.

I am convinced that we need new forms of dialogue, exchange and cooperation between North and South.

And we must learn to share. To my mind, we have to understand that we will only do well in the long term if others are doing well, too.

Yet we are currently started a shared process which is certainly not easy.

But it will show how relations of Germany and Europe with the world are changing, particularly relations with the global South.

We are involving many different voices to have their say in the process. Because we want to ensure that we don’t end up just telling the ONE story.

After all, Europe has long since stopped to be the centre of interpreting the world, as the President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, Hermann Parzinger, once stated.

Thirdly, Germany has to become even more visible and attractive as an international centre for science, research and innovation.

Because we are in a global competition for ideas, a global competition for the best talent, we need to strengthen Germany’s research and innovation profile.

We are doing this worldwide.

With the network of German Centres for Research and Innovation we are connecting with the science hubs of the world, with transnational education programmes, for example, the Sino-German School for Postgraduate Studies, the Turkish-German University in Istanbul, centres of excellence in Africa.

We are supporting empowerment and creating important transfer of know-how.

Not least, we want to ensure that more students come to Germany and also that more Germans study in other countries around the world.

We are well on track here. Just a few numbers: In 2018, over 350,000 foreign students came to Germany; making it one of the top five destinations for academic exchange.

And we are focusing on Africa and on strengthening the continent as a location for study and science. In a forward-looking partnership with Africa, we are promoting scholarships and a broad network of lectors.

We are setting up centres of excellence for scientific cooperation. And: we are planning to set up a university of applied sciences in eastern Africa and a teaching academy in Egypt!

All this means we are making an important contribution to quality, practice-oriented training and creating new job prospects.

Fourthly, if research museums are imparting knowledge and making this knowledge available to as wide an audience as possible, this is an outstanding example of how we can bring together education-, research- and science-policy in practice.

That means that we can connect our education networks with education biographies embracing school education, vocational training and even academic education.

I am thinking here for example of the 1,200 PASCH schools with more than 600,000 students worldwide. We are heading in this direction with our work to set up and extend universities of applied sciences.

With 140,000 scholarships in 2017, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) is promoting more exchanges than any other organisation in the world.

And with its alumni of 30,000 including 55 Nobel Prize winners, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation is a wonderful advert for promoting young cutting-edge researchers.

Now we need to connect these competences in the field of student exchange and university cooperation in a holistic approach or, as we often put it, in a lifelong approach of “education biographies”.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As Alexander von Humboldt wrote in his work “Cosmos”:

“Knowledge and understanding are the joy and the entitlement of humankind”.

And indeed, I am always highly impressed by the scientists I meet all around the world.

Many of them are members of the Humboldt family. Learning from them and experiencing something completely new is perhaps one of the greatest things about being a politician.

I hope that all together we can help to ensure that even more people can acquire and obtain knowledge.

Research museums have a key role here. Because they are not just “ivory towers”, but in fact they are hubs of social interaction.

I am thinking here of programmes for children, the visitors of tomorrow, of the museum cafés, the bookshops and all the events.

You open the door to encounters.

You develop social power.

Here people can not only tank up on knowledge but, just like in the Ruhr area where I come from, also find out more about society.

And I consider that, ladies and gentlemen, to be one of the most important roles, museums can play today for our society.

We need global local history museums for global citizens.

With this in mind, I hope all of you enjoy a conference full of knowledge-sharing and new discoveries, inspiring discussions and ideas for new forms of cooperation.

I am delighted to open the first Global Summit of Research Museums here in Berlin.

Thank you very much.


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