Past Event

Lecture: Reconstruction and Restitution Problems of Cultural Heritage in the Berlin Humboldt Forum

February 23, 2023
6:00 PM - 8:00 PM
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Deutsches Haus at Columbia (420 West 116th Street)

Please join us for a lecture by Professor Dr. Stefan Willer, Max Kade Distinguished Visiting Professor. 

Reconstruction and Restitution
Problems of Cultural Heritage in the Berlin Humboldt Forum

Prof. Dr. Stefan Willer, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

The "Humboldt Forum" which opened in 2021 in the rebuilt Berlin Palace, is a place where
debates about cultural tradition, property, and heritage overlap in a remarkable way. In my
lecture, I would like to unfold this complex relationship in three steps.

First, I would like to point out how strange and at the same time characteristic it is that a
completely demolished castle can be rebuilt. Drawing on literary examples, I would like to
point to "Mikahil Bakhtin's notion of "castle time," meaning a particular way of spatializing the
contested temporalities of genealogy and inheritance. Second, I will focus on the
reconstruction of the Berlin Palace. In doing so, I will also refer to the eventful previous
history of the building and its location, highlighting aspects of change of ownership,
expropriation, and appropriation. Third, I consider the content of the Humboldt Forum, which
raises yet another issue of cultural heritage, especially with regard to the holdings of the
Ethnological Museum on display there. This is where restitution becomes topical: the attempt
to bring about historical justice through the restoration of cultural property, which, however,
cannot settle the dispute over cultural heritage.

Stefan Willer is Professor of Modern German Literature at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.
Until 2018 he was co-director of the Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung
(ZfL). His research interests include the cultural history of generation, genealogy, and
inheritance, the literary rhetoric of futurity, theories of translation, and connections between
literature and music.

Image Credit: Britta Pedersen / dpa/picture-alliance