Germany: Memories of a Nation

Germany: Memories of a Nation


Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, explores 600 years of Germany's complex and often challenging history using objects, art, landmarks and literature.



Neil MacGregor began his journey through 600 years of German history at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, and ends it at the Reichstag, seat of the German Parliament. These two extraordinary buildings, only a few hundred yards apart, carry in their very stones the political history of the country. Neil talks to architect Norman Foster, who in 1992 won the commission to restore the Reichstag, when Germany's Parliament returned to Berlin in the wake of re-unification. Producer Paul Kobrak.

Barlach's Angel  

Neil MacGregor focuses on Ernst Barlach's sculpture Hovering Angel, a unique war memorial, commissioned in 1926 to hang in the cathedral in Güstrow. Producer Paul Kobrak.

The New German Jews  

After concentration camps like Buchenwald and extermination camps like Auschwitz, it seemed that the story of Jews in Germany must come to a full stop at the end of the war. Why would any Jew in 1945, or in 1965 for that matter, see any part of their future in Germany? But remarkably Germany today has the fastest-growing Jewish population in Western Europe. Neil MacGregor visits a synagogue in Offenbach, near Frankfurt, which was inaugurated in 1956 and has been greatly enlarged in the years since then. Producer Paul Kobrak.

Out of the Rubble  

Neil MacGregor talks to a Trümmerfrau, a woman who cleared rubble from the streets of Berlin in 1945, and focuses on a sculpture by Max Lachnit, a portrait of a Trümmerfrau made from hundreds of pieces of rubble. Neil also examines the role the launch of the Deutsch Mark played in the re-building of Germany. Producer Paul Kobrak.

The Germans Expelled  

Neil MacGregor focuses on a small hand-cart to tell the story of the forced movement of more than 12 million Germans, who fled or were forced out of Central and Eastern Europe after 1945. For many, the only way of transporting their possessions was a hand-cart, as they walked to parts of Germany they had never seen before. And Neil also reflects on the 1949 Berlin staging of Brecht's play Mother Courage, examining a model of the production's set. Fiona Shaw, who has played the title role, discusses how the image of Mother Courage pulling her cart, amidst the devastation of war, became one of the most memorable stage pictures of the 20th century. Producer Paul Kobrak.

At the Buchenwald Gate  

Neil MacGregor visits Buchenwald, one of the earliest and largest concentration camps. Producer Paul Kobrak.

Purging the Degenerate  

Neil MacGregor examines how the Nazis attacked art they viewed as 'entartet' - degenerate. He charts how Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister, led a process designed to purify all German culture, including books, music, paintings and pottery. The programme focuses on a vase created by Grete Marks, with an evident debt to Chinese ceramics, and a loose brush-splashed glaze suggestive of modernist painting. Goebbels condemned this vase in his newspaper Der Angriff - The Attack. Grete Marks, who was Jewish and had trained at the Bauhaus, left Germany for England. Producer Paul Kobrak.

Money in Crisis  

Neil MacGregor examines the emergency money - Notgeld - created during World War One and its aftermath. Small denomination coins began to disappear because their metal was worth more than their face value. People hoarded them or melted them down. Paper notes replaced coins, but as cities produced their own money, there was also currency made from porcelain, linen, silk, leather, wood, coal, cotton and playing cards. He also focuses on the crisis of hyperinflation in the early 1920s. At its peak, prices doubled every three and a half days, and in 1923 a 500 million mark note might buy a loaf of bread. Producer Paul Kobrak.

Kathe Kollwitz: Suffering Witness  

Neil MacGregor focuses on the art of Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945), who expresses the loss and suffering of war, especially after the death of her younger son Peter at the front in 1914. Neil MacGregor argues that she is one of the greatest German artists. Like no other artist of the time, Kollwitz gave voice to the overwhelming sense of personal loss felt by ordinary Germans - the loss of a whole generation, the loss of political stability and of individual dignity. Producer Paul Kobrak.

Bismarck the Blacksmith  

Neil MacGregor charts the career of Otto von Bismarck (1815-98), known as the Iron Chancellor: he argued that the great questions of the day should be decided by 'iron and blood'. Bismarck was disliked and feared by foreigners, and reviled by liberals at home for his authoritarianism, but among many sections of the German population, he was a hero. At his death, monuments were erected across the whole country by public subscription, but Bismarck could also be brought into your own home. Small statues of Bismarck came in many guises, but few are more striking than the little bronze and plaster figure belonging to the German Historical Museum in Berlin, showing Bismarck the Blacksmith. Bald-headed, sleeves rolled up, wearing a leather apron and wielding his hammer, the middle-aged Bismarck is at his forge, the trusty village blacksmith. Producer Paul Kobrak.

Bauhaus: Cradle of the Modern  

Neil MacGregor focuses on the Bauhaus school of art and design, founded in Weimar in 1919. Our cities and houses today, our furniture and typography, are unthinkable without the functional elegance pioneered by the Bauhaus. Producer Paul Kobrak.

From Clock to Car: Masters of Metal  

Neil MacGregor focuses on the long tradition of German metalwork, from finely-engineered clocks to the Volkswagen Beetle. German gold and silversmiths were established as the best in the world, but it was for the making of scientific instruments that Germany's workers of the other metals were especially renowned. They worked across a whole range of disciplines at the highest level, combining academic, scientific and practical skills with mathematics and creative artistry. Producer Paul Kobrak.

Porcelain: The White Gold of Saxony  

Neil MacGregor focuses on how 18th century German chemists discovered the secrets of Chinese porcelain, known then as 'white gold' - translucent, fine-glazed, and much-coveted. Porcelain became a lucrative source of income, and was used for prestigious diplomatic gifts. The Meissen porcelain factory remained one of the most prestigious parts of German manufacturing right up until 1945. Producer Paul Kobrak.

Dürer: An Artist for All Germans  

Neil MacGregor focuses on the work of Dürer (1471-1528), arguing that he is the defining artist of Germany, his image - and his self-image - known to all Germans. He was a new kind of artist, clearly fascinated by himself, and the first great artist in Europe to paint so many self-portraits. He embodies the Renaissance idea of the artist as a hero and a star, the artist of a new world and a new technology. Dürer was also the first artist to sell his work widely throughout Europe. Producer Paul Kobrak.

Gutenberg: In the Beginning Was the Printer  

Neil MacGregor examines the life and legacy of Johannes Gutenberg, who invented moveable type and pioneered the printing press. For many, it is the moment at which the modern world began, as the book as we know it was born. It is without doubt the point at which access to knowledge stopped being the privilege of the few. Producer Paul Kobrak.

1848: The People's Flag and Karl Marx  

Neil MacGregor reflects on the events of 1848, when black, red and gold became the colours of the flag for a united Germany, and Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published The Communist Manifesto. Producer Paul Kobrak.

Iron Nation  

Neil MacGregor charts the role of iron in 19th century Prussia, an everyday metal whose uses included patriotic jewellery and the Iron Cross, a military decoration to honour all ranks. Producer Paul Kobrak.

Holbein and the Hansa  

Neil MacGregor charts the rise and fall of the Hansa, or Hanseatic League, a great trading alliance of 90 cities, including Lübeck, Hamburg, Danzig, Riga and London. He also focuses on the role of the artist Hans Holbein the Younger, who painted portraits of Hansa merchants. 'If I had to choose one image to sum up the Hansa in its heyday,' says Neil MacGregor, 'It would be Holbein's 1532 portrait of Georg Gisze, a Danzig merchant trading in London.' The painting shows an expensively-dressed 33 year old man, his wealth and status indicated by a vase made of the finest, the thinnest Venetian glass, a small circular brass clock, certainly made in Southern Germany, and a Turkey carpet imported from the Levant. Producer Paul Kobrak.

Riemenschneider: Sculpting the Spirit  

Neil MacGregor focuses on the religious sculptures of Riemenschneider (c1460- 1531), whose reputation as an artist has steadily risen. He is seen as a supreme sculptor, working in a peculiarly German medium, limewood, but articulating the sensibilities of a continent. And Neil MacGregor reveals why, as the war came to an end in 1945, the Nobel Prize-winning writer Thomas Mann identified Riemenschneider as a moral and political hero. Producer Paul Kobrak.

The Battle for Charlemagne  

Neil MacGregor visits Aachen cathedral to examine the legacy of Charlemagne (c. 747-c. 814) - was he a great French ruler, or was he Charles the Great, a German? And what is the significance of a very fine replica of the Imperial Crown? Producer Paul Kobrak.

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