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Erich Kästner Museum Dresden

The mobile, interactive micromuseum®

The Erich Kästner Museum has been located in Villa Augustin since its opening on February 23, 2000, Kästner`s 101st birthday. Many aspects of this exemplary 20th century author’s life are presented, letting the visitor glimpse into Kästner’s modern and diverse personality.

Despite his many successes, Kästner is one of the miserable authors of modern literature.  He disguised himself, in his private life as well as in his work, in ever-changing alter egos, which eventually led to his loss of “face” behind the various “masks.”  His life ended in resignation, with his last few years being overshadowed by a creative crisis.  Yet, this situation is not a biographical coincidence but a direct result of the changes which took place in the media and the decrease in literature dealing with politics and society.

This new museum concept takes into account the fact that modern museums have only limited resources at their disposal.  The idea behind the exhibit is to present as much information as possible in a minimum amount of space with a perpetually expanding database.  With new methods of information brokering, the museum aims to inspire its guests to discover the complex world of Kästner in a creative way; fun and wondering are in the foreground of the discovery process.

The core of the museum, displaying several carefully selected first editions, provides an insight into Kästner’s literary biography.  According to the basic concept of the museum, the 13 surrounding columns contain a variety of different items, such as photos, letters, certificates and theater programs.  Visitors are allowed to touch these exhibits, which correspond to four different themes:

  • “Erich Kästner, a German from Saxony” (green drawers) 

The first category addresses Kästner’s life before he became famous, from his childhood in Dresden and literary beginnings in Leipzig to his autobiographical reflection and possible audiences in Saxony and the GDR.

  • “Kästner, a reluctant outsider” (red drawers)

The red drawers depict Erich Kästner as a moralist and social critic.  Throughout his life, Kästner was always a defender of social values and never wanted to be an outsider.  However, the “others” – whether society as a whole or simply other people – often came through as “opponents.”  This includes censorship during the Third Reich, the suppression of his work, as well as his relationship with other people, for instance, women.

  • “Kästner’s utopia – the child inside” (yellow drawers)

Children are the most positive element in Kästner’s work, therefore this theme deals with children’s literature, film, and theater in addition to children as an underlying motif in other works.

  • “Kästner and the media” (blue drawers)

Kästner was not just an author but a journalist, critic, screenwriter, poet and playwright.  Thus, the fourth category is dedicated to his skillful and modern use of print media and radio, without neglecting the classic forms of media such as film, theater, and cabaret.

In addition to the multimedia equipment, the 13th column also contains some originals, including letters and a pencil case, to combine all the various aspects into a unified whole, which again supports the museum’s underlying concept.

The Architectural Concept

The mobile, interactive micromuseum® is a piece of modern architecture, corresponding to the various elements of Kästner’s personality.  The museum combines architecture, art, sculpture, and everyday objects, and implements a brand new, contemporary, communicative idea at a low expense.

Ruairí O’Brien, an Irish architect, designed the museum according to the architectural principle “less is more,” and created a self-sufficient and resourceful space, where visitors of all generations can explore the complex world of Erich Kästner playfully.  This accessible “treasure chest” unites tradition with modernity through the use of exhibits that appeal to the senses and make use of the latest technology.

The museum concept addresses key architectural themes of the 21st century, such as: “How much space does a person need?”; “Which ergonomic solutions, for instance the first spaceships or submarines, are appropriate, considering the environmental damage and the growing need for more individual space, mobility and effectiveness?”; “How can old and new, the past and future, the varying speeds of real and virtual life be effectively combined?”

The custom-made museum consists of a core, housing multimedia technology (PC with internet access, TV, video, stereo) and displaying original items, which is surrounded by mobile, drawer-filled columns stocked with objects that can be touched and examined by visitors.

This small museum can be described as a house within a house, which has found its home simultaneously in the real and virtual world, namely in the traditional Villa Augustin and the modern worldwide web respectively.

Each visitor is invited to explore the life-size building block-like columns individually and at his own pace and to look into the drawers, gaining a deeper understanding of the museum’s exhibit, and of course, Kästner himself.  Each building block is independent of the others but simultaneously part of the larger whole when combined with the more common elements of a museum.  The mobility of the columns allows each visitor to discover a completely different image of Kästner.

Within the core is a computer workstation, though which the visitor has internet access.  Visitors are thus offered the opportunity, not only to explore the ever-growing, unique database containing information about Kästner’s life and world, but also to get in contact with Kästner fans all over the world.  This way, a balance is created between the relaxed physical exploration of the museum and the speed of media and technology.  This resourceful piece of art, designed according to a building block principle, was completed in stages, dictated by financial resources and the availability of new exhibits.  It is a growing “learning museum,” which can easily adapt to the needs of its visitors.

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