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Stroll Around – Immerse Yourself – Experience It: The New Beethoven-House

Stroll Around – Immerse Yourself – Experience It: The New Beethoven-House
by Prof. Barbara Holzer, Dr. Nicole Kämpken

To mark Beethoven's birthday in 2020, the museum will be transformed, giving it a new, contemporary appearance.  The new design for the permanent exhibition is being worked on with a degree of urgency. The starting point and unique framework is the historic collection of buildings, which has always held a strong appeal for audiences with a passion for music and culture. The museum attracts 100,000 visitors per year from all over the world, making it one of the most popular visitor attractions in Germany. The new permanent exhibition will be displayed in the historic monument of Bonngasse 20 which is Beethoven’s place of birth as well as in the front building. The structure of the narrative and the layout of the rooms have been developed in tandem. The link between the content, form and space allows for a cohesive overall choreography. 

The aim of the permanent exhibition in the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn is to transport visitors away from contemporary daily life and to design the topics of the exhibition in such a way that visitors not only discover the life and works of Beethoven, but also that visitors are emotionally affected by it. The diversity of the perspectives mean that the transmission of knowledge and the emotional experience complement one another.

The exhibition recounts the story of Beethoven's life and beyond. The historic exhibits from the largest and most varied Beethoven collection in the world are the most important elements in this. One of the most significant exhibits in the museum is the house itself: as Beethoven’s place of birth, it has a strong auratic impact. The aim of the new exhibition layout is to set the scene perfectly for the historic house itself. The house itself, as an authentic site, in addition to numerous historic and personal objects, allows the public to immerse themselves in Beethoven's world. The uniqueness of the originals is highlighted by a targeted selection and its historic or cultural contextualisation. The historic artefacts are presented in a more compact manner with regard to their media and artistic characteristics, offering new perspectives on the history to visitors. They offer playful and sensuous interaction with Beethoven and his works. A media guide takes visitors around the exhibition. Simple graphics and a targeted selection of images complement the audio trail, which provides extra depth to the content of the exhibition in many languages. Individual media stations in the display cases allow visitors to "leaf through" interesting documents. They include explanations and illustrations using original hand-written notes by Beethoven, thus rendering the content more profound.

The exhibition extends over several floors and many smaller rooms (similar to cabinets), and the historic buildings significantly shape the visitor experience. The content is subdivided according to content and therefore invites visitors to continuously discover new aspects. Visitors can stroll around the historic rooms and the exhibition, which is set out according to theme. They enter the ground floor to a gallery of authentic Beethoven portraits which are annotated with commentaries from his contemporaries, therefore opening up the perspective of Beethoven’s life story. Another theme is Beethoven's roots in his home city of Bonn, which shaped the social existence of young people and musicians in a variety of ways and provided a stimulating foundation for his development. On the first floor, Beethoven as an individual takes centre stage. Thanks to his orderly daily schedule, he was able to create a balance between productive phases of work and periods of inspiration and relaxation. His social circle, which was instrumental to his success story, is represented through portraits of friends and art patrons, providing fascinating insights. On the second floor, the exhibition takes a look at the tragedy of Beethoven’s life: his deafness dealt him a barely imaginable blow of fate. And despite this, he managed to set new artistic benchmarks. Using selected works, the exhibition provides a narrative of how he radically cast off existing conventions to become one of the most significant artists in musical history.

The display cases and exhibition installations are an appropriate reflection of the size of one of the historic rooms; they furnish the rooms and therefore create a reference to the original purpose of the building as a residential home. The furniture of the exhibition is of a light and elegant design. The presentation areas are generous and offer the necessary space to set the scene for the high-quality originals. Tall glass cases in the rooms permit a high level of transparency and clarity. On the walls, historic images or graphics are displayed, which put the themes of the exhibition into context in the individual rooms.

The room which is referred to as the room of Beethoven's birth is the actual nucleus of the museum. The intention is for it to become a place to "encounter Beethoven". Visitors are able to enter the room, but do not come into contact with the historic floor – rather, they walk on a new, lightly reflective surface which is laid over the top. This creates a floating sensation, an almost dream-like state. A rear projection plays on a diagonal mirrored surface. Quotations and sketches from Beethoven are therefore superimposed over one’s own image in the mirror. The magical force of the room can be experienced through this. A place of poetry, a room for reflection, thought and convergence are thereby created.

 In the historic vaulted cellar, a type of "treasure chamber" has been created. This room, which has no natural daylight at all, sets the scene for Beethoven's handwriting to be displayed in alternating cycles.Beethoven's writing and working processes are portrayed, allowing for an insight into his "workshop".The room is dedicated to the Beethoven collector Hans Conrad Bodmer, whose legacy tripled the collection of the Beethoven-Haus all at once.

A new service centre on the opposite side of the street (Bonngasse 21) creates an area for the cash desk, shop, café, educational facilities and cloakrooms, freeing the space in the historic building. Larger spaces facilitate its use as a place of learning outside school or for other events. The service functions are given a contemporary "look": a generous glass façade provides good visibility from the street. 

In the original museum shop in the "Haus zum Mohren" (Bonngasse 18), a spacious, flexible temporary exhibition room is being created. In the rear section of the building is a multi-functional room for smaller concerts to be given on both of the historic forte pianos as well as film showings. 

To mark Beethoven's 250th birthday, visitors are treated to a variety of displays in the newly designed Beethoven-Haus, creating a unique, pleasant, stimulating and entertaining museum experience as well as an invitation to enjoy a contemporary encounter with Beethoven.


© Holzer Kobler Architekturen / TheGreenEyl,