The Linden Museum – the World in Stuttgart

The history of the Linden Museum began with the foundation of the “Wuerttemberg Association for Commercial Geography” on the 27th of February 1882. As the economic crisis of the 1870s wrecked havoc and threatened the stability of Germany’s domestic market, an imperative arose, signalling the necessity of developing overseas sales markets. Towards this end, in Stuttgart as well as elsewhere in Germany, numerous commercial-geographic associations were founded. Starting in 1884, Germany came to possess its first colonies, and the Stuttgart-based association partly defined itself as an information platform for the newly-acquired countries in Africa, Asia and the South Pacific, providing assistance for those who wished to emigrate, and preparing them for life in the colonies.

Already early on, the “Wuerttemberg Association for Commercial Geography” had entertained the idea of founding a commercial-geographic museum, which, in keeping with political and economic aims, would showcase important goods for the domestic market.

Following his retirement, Karl Graf von Linden (1838-1910), a lawyer and lastly the head chamberlain at the Wuerttembergian royal court, became the chairman of the “Wuerttemberg Association for Commercial Geography”. He spearheaded the foundation of the new museum, giving it an ethnographic orientation. According to von Linden, the task of the new institution was to build up collections concerning various cultures in their present state, and to subsequently document them. He wished that after his death, the operation of the museum would be entrusted to the state. Taking a contrary position on the matter was Theodor Wanner, a merchant, and since 1902 the treasurer of the association, as well as the honorary Swedish consul general; he proposed a commercial-geographic museum that was first and foremost concerned with preparing German emigrants for life abroad. Ultimately however, it was decided that the museum would have an ethnographic bias. The museum was set-up in Stuttgart’s House of Commerce, opening on the 1st of June 1889, presenting a permanent exhibition over an area of 450 m².

The collection grew rapidly: in 1886, 300 objects had been registered; by 1899, there were more than 9,000 objects on record; and in 1910, Karl Graf von Linden had collected and documented over 60,000 objects. Karl Graf von Linden was assiduous in finding patrons and sponsors, who would finance the acquisition of artifacts, although it was his connections with the royal court that helped the fledgling museum the most. His numerous appeals were made to donors worldwide, motivating them to give. The brisk growth of the collection quickly necessitated a larger venue. Eventually, it was decided that the museum would be housed in its own building, located at its present location on the Hegelplatz. The foundation stone was laid down on the 10th of January 1910, a few days following the death of the Graf von Linden. On the 28th of May 1911, the building was inaugurated and named in honour of its founder. Since then, this building on the Hegelplatz has been known as the Linden Museum.

Shortly before his death, Graf von Linden named Dr. Augustin Krämer, a naval doctor and distinguished South Pacific expert, as the first director of the new museum. Krämer’s appointment had repercussions, leading to permanent conflict with Wanner. Krämer attempted to stay true to von Linden’s vision, and worked towards building a world-class ethnological museum. Thus he followed von Linden’s lead in documenting and protecting the testimony of indigenous cultures from extinction. For his part, Wanner remained steadfast in his insistence that colonial interests should be emphasized. The First World War led to the loss of Germany’s colonies. Nevertheless, the reclaiming of these once German territories remained a dream that was also kept alive in the Linden Museum. The Linden Museum provided intensive support up into the 1930s for now-defunct associations sympathetic to this aim through loaning objects and offering lectures.

After Krämer’s call-up as a staff surgeon, Wanner appointed Dr. Theodor Koch-Grünberg as the new director in 1914. As a result of this, Augustin Krämer withdrew completely from the Linden Museum, breaking off all ties. Koch-Grünberg was a distinguished ethnologist and a specialist for South America, and served as director until 1924.

In 1928, a large-scale colonial exhibition was shown at the Regional Trade Office in Stuttgart.

At the beginning of the 1930s, the financial situation of the museum took a turn for the worse. An attempted takeover by the Third Reich’s ruling powers was nonetheless averted.

In view of the imminent air raids that the war would bring, starting in the autumn of 1942, Theodor Wanner had a large part of the collection evacuated. Unfortunately, large objects such as original boats or large masks could not be transported away for safe-keeping. Still, over 900 boxes were transported by train to the salt mine in Kochendorf near Bad Friedrichshall, and (under the Swedish flag) to Schaubeck Castle in Kleinbottwar. The nearly empty museum continued to offer lectures up until March 1943.

An airstrike on the 14th of September 1944 left the Linden Museum damaged. Considerably more serious was the destruction of the building by the resulting large-scale fire; this conflagration is believed to have spread so quickly because of the warehousing of furniture confiscated from Jews, in the rooms of the museum. In the end, only the basement remained. What objects from the collections were destroyed in this attack and fire is still not totally clear. The large objects that could not be evacuated were completely destroyed, victims of the war.

Immediately after the end of the war, Theodor Wanner worked diligently towards the reconstruction of the museum. The Linden Museum was one of the first ruined buildings to be restored in Stuttgart. Already in 1949, the Linden Museum building was standing once again, although a large part of its space was assigned to the Ministry of Education and the Arts for Wuerttemberg-Baden, who used the rooms for its Regional Educational Institute, a teacher training college. Up until 1952, the evacuated objects gradually returned to the museum, and the first edition of TRIBUS, the Linden Museum’s specialized periodical, was published. Initially, the museum was free to resume its work on an area of ca. 800 m², with this space augmented to ca. 1500 m² in 1959. The first permanent exhibitions devoted to the departments of the South Pacific and Africa were constructed, and later a permanent exhibition pertaining to America followed, overseen by Otto Zerries to coincide with the International American Studies Congress held in Stuttgart.

The reconstruction of the museum exhausted the association’s treasury. The city of Stuttgart signaled its readiness to take on the museum’s expenses, starting in 1953. In 1964, the federal state agreed to a request initiated by the city, to take on a third of all the museum’s expenses.

On the 15th of October 1973 a contract was drawn up and signed, ensuring the operation of the museum by the Federal State of Baden-Wuerttemberg. The Linden Museum thus became an official state museum, operated by a partnership of the city and state. In that same year, the former supporting association changed its name to the “Association for Geography and Ethnology Stuttgart (registered association)”, under which it continues to operate as a booster club for the museum. Starting from the middle of the 1970s, the collections for the Orient and East Asia have been intensively strengthened through new purchases. Moreover, the departments for East Asia, South Asia and the Orient were all separated from one another, and each new department was assigned a division expert. The collection was greatly enhanced by the federal state-funded acquisitions, enabling the procurement of top-quality artifacts for the museum.

After the teacher training college moved out at the end of the 1970s, the whole building could once again be used entirely by the museum. After extensive renovations were undertaken and completed, in the summer of 1985, new permanent exhibitions for Ancient Peru, North America, Africa, the Orient and the South Pacific were unveiled. A year later, permanent exhibitions for South Asia and East Asia were also opened to the public. All departments were provided with experiential areas, such as the Japanese tearoom, the oriental bazaar, the Tibetan sanctuary, and the Cameroonian house. All of these elements are still present to this day.

Around the turn of the millennium, a new concept was developed pairing the necessary modernization of the permanent exhibitions with large-scale special exhibitions, which hitherto could not be presented due to a lack of space. Extensive changes were made to the departments for South Asia and East Asia in 2002, followed by Latin America in 2003, and North America in 2004. The new permanent exhibition devoted to the Americas integrates a contemporary critical discussion pertinent to each constituent region in its presentation. In the context of this restructuring of the exhibition concept, only the South Pacific permanent exhibition, dismantled in 2001, remains, aside from transitional exhibitions, closed, as the room has been deemed indispensable for large special exhibitions.

On the occasion of the centenary anniversary of the museum in 2011, the forecourt was equipped with metal balls and steles, and lettering was mounted on the façade. The foyer was also modernized and a new information counter was set up.

The Linden Museum is the only ethnological state museum in Baden-Wuerttemberg, and regards itself today as a living venue for intercultural dialog and a meeting place for an increasingly culturally diverse city; furthermore, it identifies itself as a guardian of important attestations of world heritage. The museum presents in both its permanent and special exhibitions the diversity of the world’s cultures, and seeks to sensitize the visitor as to the importance of process in culture. In order to accomplish this goal, the museum continues to this day to collect indigenous objects; these objects are mostly acquired by the museum’s scientific experts on their research expeditions. After more than 100 years of history, the Linden Museum’s collection of ca. 160,000 objects ranks as one of Europe’s most important ethnological collections.

The classical tasks of the museum to “collect, preserve, research and mediate” still remain the same and continue to act as our guiding principles. However the overall picture of the Linden Museum also includes, alongside the comprehensive programs that accompany exhibition projects, extracurricular offerings, as well as numerous events involving drama, music and dance, geared towards a broad public.

Nevertheless, despite its numerous refurbishments and makeovers, the Linden-Museum, housed within a listed building, is limited by its architectural dimensions. Attractive special exhibitions that rely on the changing viewing habits of the visitor are only made possible when parts of the permanent exhibition are dismantled. It is estimated that only roughly 3 % of its rich collections can be shown at one time. Moreover, rooms for pedagogical work are not available, although almost 50 % of our visitors are children and youths. Other shortcomings presented by the building itself include exhibition spaces that are inaccessible for those with disabilities, and the absence of effective air conditioning.

In order to fulfill the standards associated with an ethnological museum with a European reputation, we are waiting hopefully for a political decision that will allow us to construct a new building in the middle-term.

The Linden Museum and its enthusiastic and committed staff are  looking forward to an exciting future.


Prof. Dr. Inés de Castro, Director