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The Museum of European Cultures was called into being in 1999 and was created by merging the 110 year-old Museum of European Ethnology (Museum für Volkskunde) with the European collection of the Ethnological Museum. It focuses on lifeworlds in Europe and European cultural points of contact from the 18th century until today. Comprising some 275,000 original objects, the museum houses one of the largest European collections of everyday culture and popular art. The topics covered by the collection are as diverse as the cultures of Europe themselves: ranging from weddings to commemorating the dead, the cult of Napoleon to Halloween, music on Sardinia, the historically pagan 'Perchten' processions in the Alps ... the list goes on and on.
After two years of extensive renovation work, the Museum of European Cultures is reopened to the public since 9 December 2011, in the modernist building designed by Bruno Paul in Dahlem. The permanent collection, 'Cultural Contacts. Living in Europe' is on show alongside the rotating presentation of the study collection, beginning with 'Children's toys from Europe'.
Within the overall organization of the National Museums in Berlin, the Museum of European Cultures is the institution responsible for posing questions about the daily life and lifeworld of individuals, as seen within the wider context of the cultural and contemporary history of Europe. One of the museum's subsequent aims is therefore to engage in the discussion on 'culture contacts'. Through exhibitions, events and the formation of cooperation networks, the museum has firmly established itself among its European partners as a place of intercultural interaction. And, as a cultural-historical institution, it sees itself as an observer of current social and intercultural processes, such as in the field of migration research, as well as a place of international specialist discourse in the area of textile sciences, the history of photography and the broad field of popular visual cultures.
Over the course of the last few years, several further exhibitions have been organized on this topic, each accompanied by a series of events. Among them, the programme of events entitled the 'Month of Culture in the Museum of European Cultures' forms a particular highlight and has been held every year since 2000. During the 'Month of Culture' a particular European region or group of people from Europe is presented to the public under a certain topic. The 'Month of Culture' lasts from between two to four weeks and comprises a small exhibition and a programme of events. These events always take place at various European cultural institutes, associations and embassies in Berlin, often with the participation of the partner institutions in each of the respective European countries involved.
Following on from the scholarly tradition of the then Museum for Folklore, the Museum of European Cultures also continues to engage itself with our own society's everyday culture, seen within a European context - posing such questions as who is part of our own society and who is not. The issue of migration thus also plays a foremost role in exhibitions and events.
One core aspect to the museum's public image and ambit is provided by various exhibitions, held as part of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation's federal programme, which are loaned out to other museums, not just in the Federal Republic of Germany, but in neighbouring countries as well. Bilateral exhibitions with Poland, Hungary, Austria and Romania, as well as close network ties with France, Belgium, Italy, Croatia, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Great Britain, the United States and Sweden all form a current focal point in the museum's work.
But above all, the museum's principal task is that of maintaining both the collections it has been able to amass and the building itself in which it is housed. Many objects originate from the religious circumstances of people in Europe in the 19th and 20th century. Several of such pieces can be viewed in exhibitions held at Easter or Christmas, which are each accompanied at weekends by handicraft markets, where high quality items from a range of European regions are placed on sale. Items such as these as well as many collector's items are the result of the creative talents of individuals or even groups of individuals and are placed on view for the 'edification and education' of the general public under a particular chosen topic of cultural-historical importance. The museum therefore also recognizes its special task of promoting creativity and handicraft skills. And in keeping with this goal, courses are offered to children and artist workshops to adults, which give people the chance to learn more about various traditional and modern techniques using original display material taken from the museum.