Newspaper article International New York Times

In Artifacts, Lessons for Today

Newspaper article International New York Times

In Artifacts, Lessons for Today

Article excerpt

At the British Museum, there are lessons for Britain, Germany and Europe among some 180 objects on display.

In his office on the second floor of the British Museum, Barrie Cook, the curator of an exhibition on Germany, cheerfully pointed out that this part of the building was entirely flattened by a German firebomb in 1941.

"I would have been under there," Mr. Cook said, his index finger tapping a grainy photograph of the destruction swiftly produced from his overflowing bookshelf. "Right there, flat as a pancake."

World War II still reliably creeps up in conversations about Germany in Britain, which is why the exhibition "Germany: Memories of a Nation" is remarkable: It covers 600 years of German history instead of 13 years of Nazi rule.

The show speaks to an evolving view about Germany, which has become in peace what it failed to become in war: Europe's pre- eminent power. But it also offers a nuanced explanation about why Germans appear so much more at ease with their role in Europe than the British.

In a year when a general election will determine whether Britain will hold a referendum on its European membership, there are lessons for Britain, Germany and Europe among some 180 objects on display.

Many of them are worth seeing on their own merit: There is a 1541 Bible that once belonged to Martin Luther with a handwritten psalm signed by the father of the Reformation himself; the three- cornered hat worn by Napoleon during his 1815 defeat at Waterloo (the only non-German object in the exhibition); and a porcelain rhinoceros made in a Meissen factory in 1730.

Several cities singled out for their contributions to German heritage are no longer part of Germany. Among them: Strasbourg, in France, one of the great cities of the German Reformation; Kaliningrad, Russian since 1945 but before then called Konigsberg and home to the philosopher Immanuel Kant and the artist Kathe Kollwitz; and Prague, now the Czech capital but in 1348 the site of the first German-speaking university. All were part of the so- called Holy Roman Empire, which loosely united Europe's German- speaking lands. …

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