Study trip to Berlin in 2022

This excursion was a part of the course entitled “Colonialism, Racism, Antisemitism in recent (and not so recent!) debates on German Cultural Heritage” by Prof. Dr. Claudia Jarzebowski.
This class aimed to openly engage with current debates and visit sites of recent and massive attention, such as the Humboldt Forum in Berlin. Thanks to the generous support of the BCDSS, 15 MA students had the chance to participate in the excursion from May 9-13, 2022.

The articles published on this webpage are the opinions and thoughts of the individual students, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the BCDSS.


in recent debates on
German Cultural Heritage

By Narges Mirzapour,
MA student of the BCDSS Dependency and Slavery Studies

The multiplicity of voices inherent in the Humboldt
Forum’s program is reflected in its institutional collaborations: The Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz with the Ethnologisches Museum and the Museum für Asiatische Kunst der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin, the Stadtmuseum Berlin together with Kulturprojekte Berlin, the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss are working together on developing this pioneering model.

‘Colonialism’ and ’Coloniality’ is one of the core themes in Humboldt Forum. I witnessed this place as engaged with
postcolonial perspectives and voices, developing a methodological practice that promotes a transparent, ongoing process of reflection on the “continuity of colonial practices in the way we work and perceive ourselves.” Although my home country Iran, had never been colonized, the “self-colonization” of my country—because of the wrong political status—caused
the erasure of many cultural heritages and historical traces of the past civilizations of Iran. 

Impression from the exhibition.png
© Susanne C. Soellinger

When I went to the Asia section in the Humboldt Forum, I saw the part related to Iran was closed due to some reconstructions, and I couldn’t visit the cultural heritage of my own country there, which I’m sure is well-preserved there. However, the interesting point is that in the section related to India and Pakistan, I saw traces of Iran’s historical treasures and art. These interconnections and interdependencies between social categories remind me of the theory of “intersectionality”. The Humboldt Forum can be considered a place for exchange, diversity and multiplicity of voices, a place where differences from various backgrounds come together. This is a salient point of the Humboldt Forum that puts in an effort to make the complexity of colonial histories visible. This fosters the understanding of our cultural heritage, as humans, in terms of our entanglement with the whole world, and cultivates the ability to see, touch, and learn ‘new’ things.

Impression from the exhibition 2.png
© Susanne C. Soellinger

How transparent are our museums really?

By Shrestya Saraswati,
MA student of the BCDSS Dependency and Slavery Studies

The trip to the Humboldt Forum has been enriching for me. It was interesting to see that most of the items from South Asia which were put up on display have been a part of our day-to-day life. This made me ponder how due to globalisation and the westernisation of art, the concept or the meaning of art has completely changed. It has led to the otherisation of non-western cultures. This in turn has made it lose its significance.

Most of the items which were put up on display from South Asia or Africa or other parts of the world were mostly acquired by force or otherwise. This makes art even more complex and in turn, raises debates surrounding existing museums. Digital
repatriation with 3D technology in recent times has gained much applause and people have finally taken into account the process of restoration or giving back items to their original owners/countries. It has provided an alternative way for the Indigenous community to connect with their heritage and past.
Writing about his experience, Bugra Duman states, “The excursion was a unique experience, thanks to our faculty. They provided us with insightful information about Berlin and its history while giving us space for discussion. The controversy surrounding the Humboldt Forum became more relatable when we got to see and experience the museum’s collection. Having academics from various fields with us, we were able to have intriguing and meaningful conversations and discussions. Overall, it was a fun, informative, and memorable excursion.”


By Alissa Kautz,
MA student of the BCDSS Dependency and Slavery Studies

The peak of our day in Berlin was the visit to the
Humboldt Forum as we were expecting to see also the Benin Bronzes, one of the most infamous objects in the museum. We were disappointed when we learnt that they were not yet on display and that the exhibition was to be opened only in late
2022, especially because the objects play a prominent role as symbols in restitution debates.

Ngonnso' statue
© Susanne C. Soellinger

After we had free time to explore the museum, the tour and talk with curator Verena Rodatus revealed that she was still in the process of selecting the fourteen objects that are to be exhibited in the upcoming exhibition of the Benin Bronzes. To put this number into context, Berlin owns the second-largest collection of Benin Bronzes worldwide with more than 440 items (DW). While the curator was happy to announce that the transfer of ownership to Nigeria has now almost been completed, we were still grappling with the surprisingly low number of objects. No question, it was certainly more than welcomed by the group to hear that finally, restitution is being executed and not only talked about. However, exhibiting only fourteen artefacts in total reflects the overall lack of
information and transparency that ethnological museums tend to create. Not showing more objects is problematic in multiple ways, but it is mainly emblematic of the great lack of accessible and transparent information for museum visitors. During a visit to the exhibition, it is impossible to know how many artefacts are hidden in restoration workshops, in provenance research
labs, or simply in storage units like the majority of objects. We had the luxury of the curator giving us "behind the scenes" insights into restitution processes and answering our often very critical questions. Through the dialogues that emerged then, we gained a vastly different access to the Ngonnso’ figurine that we were discussing primarily.

It was a very thought-provoking and fruitful discussion in which both the curator's views as well as our voices were heard;
most importantly the voices of our West African classmates whose entire view on the issue emerges from a vastly different connection to the objects in question. It showed how significant it is to have these discussions not only inside rooms of white German academics but just as restitution negotiations, those from whom the objects were stolen must be included at every stage. The Ngonnso’ statue was the exemplary piece with which the curator wanted to explain the stages of restitution. As of now, there are negotiations happening with potential policymakers who might be the ones taking back the restituted object. What struck us as problematic was that all this highly interesting information we learnt from her both about the object itself as well as the current restitution process was entirely inaccessible to the regular museum visitor. There is no sign explaining the object's provenance, no label signifying its position as an object undergoing restitution. One can easily bypass objects like Ngonnso’ that are of enormous significance and are about to be restituted without even noticing them among all the other objects. Even if details of these processes cannot be shared at that point, there is still much room for improvement concerning the transparency of ethnological museums.

Steffes-Halmer, Annabelle. “Benin-Bronzen: Rückgabe ab 2022.” DW, (Last accessed 16 Jul 2022).

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© Susanne C. Soellinger


By Gular Bayramli,
MA student of the BCDSS Dependency and Slavery Studies

As a part of our Berlin excursion, we visited a number of memorials, and the Holocaust Memorial was the one which interested me the most. It is located close to the Reichstag building and Brandenburg Gate which themselves are important symbols of the terrors of German history. On the other hand, the greenery, plants and trees of Tiergarten show the sparkles of life despite all. At the edges, the blocks are very low, but very quickly the height of the blocks begins to change and the ground descends when you step into the project. The more you get into the project, the more you lose the horizon. There is no clear entrance or exit to the project, so whenever you find yourself inside, you have the feeling of being in an enclosure as an individual. People appear and disappear from time to time inside the project and you cannot find a central gathering.

At first sight, it gave me an impression of gravestones due to their shapes and color. As the design does not carry any explicit meaning, it raises some questions in my mind— Does it symbolize a cemetery? Is it intentionally disoriented? Is there any meaning being conveyed by being surrounded by Reichstag, Berlin Walls and Tiergarten? Nobody has an exact answer and the memorial is left to everyone’s own interpretation.

Colonialism, Racism and Antisemitism in recent  (and not so recent!) debates on German Cultural Heritage

By Nandkumar Shinde
MA student of the BCDSS Dependency and Slavery Studies

Germany has not been studied as a colonial invader like Britain from an Indian perspective. Colonialism debates in India are largely occupied primarily with England which had the deepest and broadest impact on India and then with small colonizers like Dutch, Portuguese, and French. The academic module in BCDSS titled Colonialism, racism, Antisemitism in recent debates on German Cultural Heritage helped me a lot to understand German participation in both early modern and modern colonial endeavors.

Pictures for the last article.png
© Susanne C. Soellinger

The class was engaged with recent issues, debates and discussions. One of the unique experiences of the Berlin excursion was the visit to the sites of recent and massive attention, like the Humboldt Forum in Berlin on 11th May 2022, where we watched ethnological collections and Asian art. The Indian section of the museum was the center of attraction and curiosity for me.

The bronze statue of Natraj was placed at the entrance of the Indian section but the information plate was missing which would have added valuable information on how, when, from where and who collected this artifact for the observer. As the statue is a very pious and holy image in Indian tradition as Natraj is the form of Lord Shiva who is believed to be the prominent God of Hindus, the casualness in the presentation of the idol was a little embarrassing for me. I had similar feelings about the stone sculpture of Buddha, the originator of Buddhism which has substantial followers across the world. Any Western observer, who doesn’t know the ethnological, religious and
cultural significance of these idols will definitely treat them as mere objects, while I joined my hands and prayed for a while by closing my eyes and felt deeply connected with my Gods at a foreign place. There were other interesting objects like an Indian Saree, a long piece of cloth approximately 5 to 7 meters worn by women in India, designed with rich colorful embroideries. Wooden shelves, glass arts, human statues, classical and antic collections, which showcased the rich Indian tradition and multiculturism with intersections and thresholds of mogul, Vaidik, ancient, pre-modern, Hindu, Buddhist, and Chinese cultures and their blend.

The recent debate about returning objects to the original colonized countries has many debatable issues. I personally feel that all objects should not be sent back to their original places because there are issues about their ownership and claims. The political system in India has become too polarized to maintain mutual respect and dignity of those objects. The maintenance cost, security, and protection of museums
would be key factors.

Statement by Emmanuel Chinenye Ani at the memorial for the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885

Statement by Emmanuel Chinenye Ani

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