First Things

Looking back to look forward

Model of a boat with honorary flags, object image, colored
Golden figure of Buddha Siddharta Gautama, standing, detail, colored
Four-armed goddess Durga sitting on a lion and an elephant, object image, colored

The museum takes a look back in order to look forward and presents a selection of the things that were first listed in an index in 1867. For the first time, objects from the museum’s early history are shown, hence illuminating an important but still largely unknown chapter in the history of the city of Hamburg.

Many of the earliest objects were donations from Hamburg citizens. They had come to Hamburg with trade goods and on passenger ships. Some of them were souvenirs and were meant to give a visual impression of cultures and their ways of life or traditions. In a fascinating way they reflect how demand inspired local artists and craftspeople to create works for the external market. Then again, other things served economic interests by demonstrating unknown products or technologies.

Hamburg’s increasing significance in colonial world trade played an important role in the beginnings of ethnographic collecting. From the mid-19th century onwards, the city and above all the port grew to become a global hub for raw materials, goods and people. The exhibition traces the objects in the collection and their stories as well as the development of the urban museum landscape. It examines the worldviews and museum practices of the time and takes a critical look at this heritage.

Publication (in German)
Jeanette Kokott and Fumi Takayanagi (Ed.), 2018: Erste Dinge – Rückblick für Ausblick. First Things – Looking back to look forward. Hamburg: self-published.

The exhibition was sponsored by the ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius, the company E.H. Worlée & Co. (GmbH & Co.) KG, Freunde des Museums am Rothenbaum MARKK e.V. and the Ministry of Culture and Media Hamburg.

Playlist of songs for the “musical journey through time” on September 11, 2018 (exhibition opening)


Five wax fruits, sweet potato, cactus fig, chirimoya, tomato, passion fruit
round Netsuke, ivory
Figure, gold, lacquered showing Siddharta Gautama
Model of a boat with honorary flags, rowers
Figure of the goddess Durga with four arms sitting on a lion and an elephant
Pair of kneeling figures, female, male
Model: Chinese wedding ceremony on Java with a great number of wooden figures and rice flour dough