Stuart Forster outlines what to expect at Hamburg’s Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe.
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The most commonly applied translation of “Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe“ renders the name of this centrally located Hamburg institution as the “Museum of Art and Industry”.
When you visit, you might find the last word of the translation somewhat misleading. This attractive museum has much to do with applied arts and design and little to do with the machinery that most people imagine when industry is mentioned. Think of this place as a German Victoria and Albert Museum.
The pottery, furniture and posters displayed here are, of course, products of an industrial process. So perhaps the name does fit. But you could argue that the German language has not been applied with its usual finesse and precision.
Known as the MKG
In fitting with the general worldwide trend for museums to be known by acronyms, the Museum fuer Kunst und Gewerbe is becoming known simply as the MKG.
The MKG is an institution that many travel writers might tag as “a hidden gem” that awful, clichéd term. Yet it’s housed in a huge, eye-catching building close to the Hauptbahnhof (central station) that happens to be modelled on London’s V&A.
Following its foundation in 1874, the Museum fuer Kunst und Gewerbe did indeed display art, craft items and industrial products; hence the origins of the name.
The museum moved to its present location on Steintorplatz in 1877 where lectures were held for the betterment of the people, just as they were in the museums of Victorian London. A library, still accessible, was also established.
The MKG tells a fascinating story. It was built and grew in reputation at roughly the same time as Hamburg’s Speicherstadt, the customs-free warehouse district that, in part, is today being redeveloped into the HafenCity.
In the 1930s it lost 270 works deemed “degenerate” by the Nazis. In the 1940s it was badly damaged by allied bombing. In the post-war years, it was rebuilt and expanded.
Evolving Art and Design
This museum tells the story of evolution in design and applied arts and provides insights into the tastes of the city that has long been regarded as Germany’s media capital.
Fashion items and textiles – ranging from regional costumes to the products of Wolfgang Joop – are displayed; Hamburg is one of the leading lights when it comes to contemporary German design.
There’s also a fine range of ceramics and items from the Far East and Islamic countries. Their presence, at least in part, reflects Hamburg’s long-established credentials as a global port.
A number of Japanese vases, whose form appear contemporary and would not look out of place in a modern European home, are, in fact, half-a-millennium old; proof that good designs do indeed appear timeless.
The breadth and depth of the collections is impressive. A number of artefacts in this museum date from the pre-Christian era while others were created in the past few years.
If you enjoy examining the details of designs, the fonts of Jugendstil posters and the style and composition of historic photographs then you plan to spend the best part of a day in the MKG.
For details about opening times, entry prices and exhibitions, see the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe (Steintorplatz, 20099 Hamburg) website.
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