Opened to the public October 15th 2011, the redesigned Dresden Museum of Military History is now the official central museum of the German Armed Forces. It will house an exhibition area of roughly 21,000 square feet, making it Germany’s largest museum. Since its 1897 founding, the Dresden Museum of Military History has been a Saxon armory and museum, a Nazi museum, a Soviet museum and an East German museum. Today it is the military history museum of a unified and democratic Germany, its location outside the historic center of Dresden having allowed the building to survive the allied bombing campaign at the end of World War II.
In 1989, unsure how the museum would fit into a newly unified German state, the government decided to shut it down. By 2001 feelings had shifted and an architectural competition was held for an extension that would facilitate a reconsideration of the way we think about war.
Daniel Libeskind’s winning design boldly interrupts the original building's symmetry. The extension, a massive, five-story 14,500 ton wedge of concrete and steel, cuts through the 135-year-old former arsenal’s structural order. A 82-foot high viewing platform (the highest point of the wedge is 98 feet) provides breathtaking views of modern Dresden while pointing towards the exact area where the firebombing of Dresden began, creating a dramatic space for reflection.
The new façade’s openness and transparency contrasts with the opacity and rigidity of the existing building. The latter represents the severity of the authoritarian past while the former reflects the openness of the democratic society in which it has been reimagined. The interplay between these perspectives forms the character of the new Military History Museum
I“The dramatic extension is a symbol of the resurrection of Dresden from its ashes. It is about the juxtaposition of tradition and innovation, of the new and the old. Dresden is a city that has been fundamentally altered; the events of the past are not just a footnote; they are central to the transformation of the city today.”- Daniel Libeskind
The content and design of the exhibition reflect the architectural contrast between the Museum’s two parts: the Chronology in the old building traces the history of Germany’s military in the form of a timeline, while the Themed Tour in the new extension deals with individual aspects and phenomena concerning the military that have had a lasting impact on society throughout the ages.
German military history is part of German cultural history. This notion forms the basis for the redevelopment of the German Army’s Military History Museum in Dresden. The concept and design of the exhibition are intended to create a dialogue between conventional and unconventional views and to make this complex topic accessible to the whole of society in a completely new way.
Through its architectural language, the new permanent exhibition enters into a symbiosis with both the Museum’s Neoclassical building and the wedge-shaped extension by Daniel Libeskind, which slices through the existing structure’s central wing.
The starting point for designing the two new zones was an exhibition space totaling more than 10,000 square meters and housing over 7,500 items from the smallest pin badge to field postcards and even a space capsule. An additional narrative level offers critical reflection with the aid of contemporary multimedia art.
The architecture, exhibition design and content of the new Military History Museum were all developed and realized hand in hand. The symbiosis between the space, the exhibition and the items on display appears entirely natural and constitutes a unique portrayal of the history of the military as part of our culture.
We show the contents of the exhibition as a walk-through installation in which objects become fascinating transmitters of history and grab the visitors emotionally. By exhibiting and combining the objects in an unconventional way we intend to irritate the viewer and thereby allow him to approach military history unprejudiced. As being part of cultural history it is also part of our life and personhood."
- Barbara Holzer --Collaboration Holzer Kobler Architekturen and HG Merz Architekten