Humboldt Forum
View of the Humboldt Forum in the rebuilt Berlin Palace (2020)
LocationBerlin Palace, Berlin, Germany
Coordinates52°31′03″N 13°24′10″E / 52.51750°N 13.40278°E / 52.51750; 13.40278Coordinates: 52°31′03″N 13°24′10″E / 52.51750°N 13.40278°E / 52.51750; 13.40278
TypeArt museum
Collectionsnon-European art
DirectorHartmut Dorgerloh
ArchitectFranco Stella
Public transit accessU: Museumsinsel (Berlin U5.svg)

The Humboldt Forum is a museum of non-European art on the Museum Island in the historic centre of Berlin. Named in honour of the Prussian scholars Wilhelm and Alexander von Humboldt, it combines three rebuilt baroque façades of the former Royal Palace, a contemporary exterior overlooking the Spree river and a modern interior designed by Franco Stella. Considered as the "German equivalent" of the British Museum,[1] the Humboldt Forum will mainly house the non-European collections of the Berlin State Museums, temporary exhibitions and public events. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it opened digitally on 16 December 2020[2] and became accessible for the general public on 20 July 2021.

The Berlin Palace complex, which houses the Humboldt Forum, has been criticized as an attempt to downplay Germany's history of Prussian militarism. New York Times architectural critic Michael Kimmelman called it a "fake Baroque palace...a stage-set of an old capital, with phony, manufactured charm, erasing traces of the bad years of the 20th century."[3]


The Humboldt Forum incorporates two former museums, the Ethnological Museum of Berlin and the Museum of Asian Art. Both had their roots in the Ancient Prussian Art Chamber. The Ancient Prussian Art Chamber was originally established by Joachim II Hector, Elector of Brandenburg in the mid 16th century, but was nearly destroyed during the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648). The art chamber was rebuilt as a magnificent collection by Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg, and was moved to the newly extended Berlin Palace by Frederick I of Prussia in the early 18th century. The Ethnological Museum opened in 1886 as a successor of the Ancient Prussian Art Chamber; the Museum of Asian Art originated as the Indian Department of the Ethnological Museum in 1904. Wilhelm von Bode, the Director-General of the Royal Museums in Berlin, established the Museum of East Asian Art as a separate collection in 1906. In 2006 the Museum of Indian Art and the Museum of East Asian Art were merged to form the Museum of Asian Art.

From 2020 the Ethnological Museum and the Museum of Asian Art are both part of the Humboldt Forum in the Berlin Palace.[4] By 2019, the Forum's overall costs totaled $700 million;[5] at the time, it was considered Europe’s most expensive cultural project.[6] Its opening was initially planned for autumn 2019, then delayed to 2020[5] due to technical problems, including with its air conditioning system.[7] Delivery delays and the unavailability of workers during a lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Germany pushed it back a few months further.[8][9] In April 2020, two tar cookers exploded at the construction site, injuring one worker.[7]


North and east facades of Humboldt Forum.
North and east facades of Humboldt Forum.

Main article: Berlin Palace

The Humboldt Forum has its seat in the reconstructed Berlin Palace.[10][11] The foundation stone was laid by President Joachim Gauck in a ceremony on 12 June 2013.[12]


On completion in 2020, the City Palace housed the Ethnological Museum of Berlin and the Museum of Asian Art, as well as two restaurants, a theater, a movie theater and an auditorium.[13] The project is led by a three-member management committee, chaired by founding director Neil MacGregor and also including the co-directors, archaeologist Hermann Parzinger and art historian Horst Bredekamp. The Foundation for the Humboldt Forum in the Berlin Palace has been set up to create the museum.[14]

MacGregor has proposed to make the museum admission-free, based on the model of the British Museum.[15]


The museum has become embroiled in controversy over its ownership of looted art and other artifacts which were obtained from the German colonial empire in Africa and Asia.[16][17] In 2018, it was at the center of a debate about the legality of cultural heritage from former colonies in Germany, drawing protests from art historians such as Bénédicte Savoy and activists, who alleged the museum had not done enough to research the provenance and fails to critically present ethnographic objects in its collection.[18][19]


Images of the highlights shown at the Humboldt Forum.

See also


  1. ^ "Neil MacGregor: 'Britain forgets its past. Germany confronts it'". the Guardian. April 17, 2016.
  2. ^ "Berlin's newest landmark is ready and waiting". Humboldt Forum.
  3. ^ Michael Kimmelman. "Rebuilding a Palace May Become a Grand Blunder". New York Times. Retrieved 2021-09-23.
  4. ^ "THE HUMBOLDT FORUM WILL OPEN IN PHASES BEGINNING IN SEPTEMBER 2020". Humboldt Forum. Retrieved 2019-07-03.
  5. ^ a b Thomas Rogers (June 13, 2019), Berlin’s Troubled Humboldt Forum Pushes Back Opening New York Times.
  6. ^ Michael Scaturro (May 18, 2015), Berlin's rebuilt Prussian palace to address long-ignored colonial atrocities The Guardian.
  7. ^ a b Christopher F. Schuetze and Alex Marshall (April 8, 2020), Explosion at Berlin’s Humboldt Forum Puts Delayed Opening in Doubt New York Times.
  8. ^ Catherine Hickley (June 16, 2020), Berlin’s Humboldt Forum to open this year despite pandemic delay The Art Newspaper.
  9. ^ Catherine Hickley (October 7, 2020), Berlin’s Humboldt Forum to open in phases beginning in December The Art Newspaper.
  10. ^ Scaturro, Michael. "Berlin's rebuilt Prussian palace to address long-ignored colonial atrocities". the Guardian. Retrieved 2015-10-30.
  11. ^ "So verlief das Richtfest am Berliner Schloss (Topping-out wreath ceremony at the Palace, German article)". Tagesspiegel. Retrieved 13 June 2015.
  12. ^ Harriet Alexander (12 Jun 2013). "Berlin begins reconstruction of King Frederick the Great's palace". The Telegraph. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  13. ^ Hickley, Catherine. "Berlin Palace Rebuilding Begins 63 Years After Explosion". Retrieved 2015-10-30.
  14. ^ Bowley, Graham (2018-10-12). "A New Museum Opens Old Wounds in Germany". Retrieved 2018-11-04.
  15. ^ "Neil MacGregor unveils plans for Berlin's ambitious Humboldt Forum".
  16. ^ "english | No Humboldt 21" (in German). Retrieved 2020-12-31.
  17. ^ BBC (16 December 2020). "Humboldt Forum: Berlin museum opens despite criticism over looted art". BBC News.
  18. ^ "Black Lives Matter movement is speeding up repatriation efforts, leading French art historian says". Retrieved 2021-08-29.
  19. ^ Christopher F. Schuetze (March 15, 2019), Germany Sets Guidelines for Repatriating Colonial-Era Artifacts New York Times.