The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
– Lao Tzu
In autumn 2020, the German Museums Association and National Institute for Museums and Polic Collections in Poland built a road.
During the first workshop of the German-Polish Museums Dialogue, a small group – randomly thrown together in a virtual discussion room – decided very quickly to travel this road. Together we wanted to make new connections with colleagues and places we had not even heard of previously, and together we wanted to show that even during times of restrictions and lack of access, creativity and progress do not have to stagnate.
With the purpose of developing a common project, we picked up on the motive of motion, of moving to and fro – and thus found a common denominator that could unite our very diverse institutions. Our topic would be migration.
Migration implies movement – geographically, socially, metaphorically. Throughout our journeys, we revisit our own history, we meet each other on our different pathways, and we can learn about each other and ourselves at the crossroads.
Our stories of migration begin in the Middle Ages, which loosely connect two of us: the Cistercian monasteries of Pforte (Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany) and Łekno/Wągrowiec (Poland) – both of which having evolved in very different directions since their foundations in the 12th century. Today, the former is a school for gifted children after having been abandoned as a monastery in 1540; until then, it was a major player in the cultural and political landscape of the region. Łekno was active from the 1140s until the 15th century, when it was destroyed in a construction disaster which encouraged the Cistercians to relocate to the Wągrowiec town area. In 2013, it once again regained its function as a cloister; its new hosts are the „white monks“ – the Pauline Fathers from the Order of Saint Paul the First Hermit. What connects us is migration – the movement of monks towards the east, carrying with them ideas and values as well as the famed Borsdorfer Apple, but staying connected through regular movement back and forth to establish Cistercian identity in the landscape.
The preservation of identity in the realm of large-scale migration connects Cistercian culture with the vocation of the Museum Association of Lower Saxony and Bremen (Germany), where the project “Herkunft. Heimat. Heute” concerns the safeguarding of home collections of the nearly two million refugees and expellees from the former eastern provinces after World War II.
Objects in museums tell stories, not only in themselves but through their own individual journeys. While some were brought as valuable possessions, others were forcibly moved. An exhibition at castle Doberlug will use objects from castle Schlobitten (Slobity), former East Prussia, to argue aspects of Middle European noble privileges and lifestyle. Moreover, the biographies of items will open the possibility to create a dialogue between German and Polish museums.
However, not all institutions can boast of research on migration, especially in recent decades. The Museum in Tarnowskie Góry, like in other institutions in Upper Silesia, does not have any artifacts or documents related to the emigration of the region’s inhabitants to Germany after World
War II. This project highlighted the importance of this gap that can be filled through the cooperation that has been established.
And thus we are travelling down the road on a journey towards a presentation of this deep storytelling. We are learning to develop our ideas into reality in a rapidly changing museum landscape – where digital content, multilingualism, audience participation and creative interrogations of collections and their display constitute the foundations of a new exhibition style.
Our goal is to showcase the many ways to tell the story of migration, and to enable, in the long run, any interested institution and individual to contribute their own journey. The virtual place is a nourishing platform to achieve a new level of connection and understanding. We are looking forward to an intense time of implementation, and are grateful for the support of the German Museums Association and National Institute for Museums and Polic Collections.