The Linden Museum – the World in Stuttgart

Prehistory - the Wuerttemberg Association for Commercial Geography 

The history of the Linden Museum begins with the founding of the "Wuerttemberg Association for Commercial Geography and the Promotion of German Interests Abroad" on 27 February 1882. When the economic crisis hit Germany in the 1870s and the domestic markets threatened to collapse, the association was forced to open up new sales markets overseas. When the German Empire came into possession of its own colonies from 1884, the Stuttgart Association also saw itself as an information platform for Wuerttemberg merchants and industrialists. For this reason, the "trade geography museum" was established as early as 1884. The focus here was still on imported and exported goods, samples of goods and product sample series such as textiles or tropical woods.  

"Our museum should, on the one hand, make the export articles of foreign countries known here and, on the other hand, show our industrialists which products are in demand and bought on overseas markets [...]".
Paul Zilling (deputy chairman of the association), 1888 

The museum was housed in a room of the industrial hall, where the first temporary exhibition of South American natural and cultural products was opened on 19 April 1885. An essential part of the association was its self-imposed educational mission, which it sought to realise with an extensive series of lectures. At these lectures, objects, including ethnological ones, were often presented to the audience, as well as colonial and even racial ideology. 

Karl Graf von Linden - Founding and Building of the Linden Museum 

Karl Graf von Linden (1838 - 1910), a lawyer and lastly Lord Chamberlain at the Royal Court of Wuerttemberg, took over the chairmanship of the "Württemberg Association for Commercial Geography" in 1889 and advocated an ethnological orientation for the museum, in which the various cultures were to be collected and documented as they existed at the time. In line with the widespread idea at the time that the societies referred to as "primitive peoples" would gradually disappear due to the influence of European expansion, von Linden saw it as the central task of the museum to collect the evidence of their material culture and thus preserve it for the future. For ethnology, which was just establishing itself as a scientific discipline, this assumption, in which evolutionist ideas of development and culture were combined with the idea of Europe's cultural superiority, was essential. Count von Linden proceeded with great zeal, and by the time of his death in 1910 he had increased the museum's collection of objects to over 60,000. He only succeeded in this by exploiting the colonial system based on inequality of power - the concrete circumstances of acquisition played only a minor role for him. His contacts supplied him with objects from all regions of the world - often without financial consideration. In the case of particularly deserving donors, he initiated the awarding of the Royal Order of Frederick by King Wilhelm II of Württemberg.

The new orientation was also reflected in the name of the museum. From the end of the 1890s, the name "Museum für Voelker- und Laenderkunde" (Museum of Ethnology and Regional Geography) became established. In contrast, little happened in the area of exhibitions since the museum's opening. It was not until 1 June 1889 that the museum was reopened in the gallery of the industrial hall. The rapidly growing collection made it necessary to look for a new location. The decision was made to build a separate building at the current location, Hegelplatz. The foundation stone for the new museum was laid on 10 January 1910, a few days before Count von Linden's death. On 28 May 1911, Count von Linden's birthday, the house was inaugurated by King Wilhelm II with the name "Linden Museum". 

The Museum - Time of the World Wars

While Count von Linden was still in charge of the Association and the Museum, these offices were separated after his death. Dr Augustin Kraemer was the first director of the museum, which was subordinate to the association. Following von Linden's instructions, he attempted to establish an ethnological museum of world renown. In doing so, he followed von Linden's endeavour to save and document the life testimonies of indigenous cultures from their demise. For Theodor Wanner, on the other hand, colonial interests remained in the foreground. The consequence was that Augustin Kraemer was deposed. Formally, Duke Wilhelm von Urach, Count of Wuerttemberg, was the chairman of the association, but it was Wanner who was the main leader of the association and who was officially chairman from 1928 to 1953. Krämer was replaced by Theodor Koch-Gruenberg, who held the post of director from 1915 to 1924. After the post was vacant, Heinrich Fischer took over from 1932 to 1945. He had already been working at the museum since 1898 and was curator there from 1911.

The First World War brought the end of the colonies in 1918, which led to a sharp decline in the number of objects. The financial situation of the association deteriorated increasingly from the 1920s onwards. Nevertheless, financial independence was to be maintained. This period of colonial revisionism also saw the large colonial exhibition in Stuttgart (1928), which was largely organised by the association and Wanner. On the other hand, there are still few findings on the role of the association during National Socialism and there is still a need for corresponding research. However, the association and the museum were not taken over by the National Socialists and were able to retain their independence. There was no change of personnel in the management and likewise no anticipatory "self-synchronisation". Heinrich Fischer remained museum director and Theodor Wanner was chairman of the association until 1953. Attempts to transform the Linden Museum into a folklore museum in the sense of Nazi racial ideology were resisted in 1934.

In view of the impending air raids during the Second World War, large parts of the objects were moved to the Kochendorf salt mine and to Schaubeck and Erbach castles from autumn 1942. Unfortunately, large objects such as original boats or large masks could not be removed and fell victim to the war altogether. The Linden Museum was slightly damaged in an air raid on 12 September 1944. Much more serious was the destruction of the building by the subsequent conflagration, which spread quickly due to the storage of furniture by the city administration in the rooms of the museum. Only the basement of the museum was preserved.

The museum - from the post-war period to 1973

Immediately after the end of the war, Theodor Wanner endeavoured to rebuild the museum. The Linden Museum was one of the first destroyed buildings in Stuttgart to be restored. By 1949, the Linden Museum building was already standing again, but most of it was made available to the Ministry of Culture of Wuerttemberg-Baden, which used the rooms as the Pedagogical Institute of the State Institute for Education and Instruction. The first permanent exhibitions on the South Seas and Africa were set up, later also one on America. The reconstruction of the museum had consumed the association's assets. From 1953, the city of Stuttgart agreed to bear the costs of the museum, and from 1964, the state also took over one third of all museum costs. Finally, on 15 October 1973, a contract was drawn up that secured the sponsorship of the museum by the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg. The Linden Museum thus became a state museum and was jointly sponsored by the city and the state. Especially in the period after the Second World War until the nationalisation of the museum, the association sold and exchanged countless museum objects. Many of these were sold to ethnographic dealers, which is why former objects from the Linden Museum still circulate on the art market today.

The Museum since 1973

At the end of the 1970s, the museum was finally able to use the entire building again. After extensive renovations, the newly created permanent exhibitions for Old Peru, North America, Africa, the Orient and the South Seas were opened in the summer of 1985. One year later, the permanent exhibition for South and East Asia followed. Experiential areas were set up in all areas, such as the Japanese Tea House, the Oriental Bazaar, the Tibet Altar Room and the Cameroon House, which are still preserved today. At the turn of the millennium, the areas of South and East Asia (2002) underwent modernising changes, then Latin America (2003) and North America (2004). Most recently, the exhibitions on Africa (Where is Africa?, 2019) and Oceania (Oceania - Continent of Islands, 2022) were revised. The special exhibition "Difficult Heritage. Linden-Museum and Württemberg in Colonialism" (2021-2022) dealt critically with the history of the museum and the former sponsoring association.

The Linden Museum has continued to develop since its founding. Not only the reappraisal of colonial history changed the view of ethnological museums. Today, the focus is on a dynamic understanding of culture and new forms of encounter and dialogue. We no longer decide alone which story(s) are told. Together with representatives of the societies of origin, with scholars from all over the world and with interested Stuttgart citizens, we process, research and reconstruct the knowledge contexts around our collections and conduct provenance research. We are developing ways to make this cooperation transparent in the exhibitions and events. In numerous projects we are testing how we can bring participation into the core of our work and make the collections even more accessible. With regard to a future new building, we are asking ourselves the question: What are the tasks of an ethnological museum in the future?