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Despite differences in the concept of collections and methods in research, the history of the Museum für Volkskunde (Museum of Folklore) and the European holdings in the Museum für Völkerkunde (today: Ethnologisches Museum, Ethnological Museum) has many common aspects.
The European collections in the Museum für Völkerkunde were originally part of the Königlich-Preußischen Kunstkammer (Royal Prussian Art Collection). The Museum für Völkerkunde with its collection of European ethnographica was opened in 1886.
In 1889 the first central museum of folklore in Germany, with the name Museum für deutsche Volkstrachten und Erzeugnisse des Hausgewerbes (Museum of German Folkloric Costumes and Crafts) was founded under the directorship of Rudolf Virchow. Its aim was to present the cultural achievements of the German peoples as well as those of neighbouring countries, which had been excluded until then.
The first association between the two institutions came in 1904, when the Museum of German Folkloric Costumes and Crafts was taken over by the "Königlichen Museen zu Berlin" (Royal Museums in Berlin) and incorporated into the Museum für Völkerkunde. However, the areas of collection were separated with the establishment of the independent Eurasia department in 1934: all objects that were not German were sorted out from the Volkskunde for the new department, while the Völkerkunde Museum in turn reciprocated with its objects of German origin. Furthermore the collection attained independent status with its establishment as the Staatliches Museum für Deutsche Volkskunde.
During World War II about 80 percent of the ethnographical collections was destroyed. The political division following the war led to the founding of two new museums in the eastern and western parts of the city. The museum in East Berlin drew folklore and ethnology into close association. This complex was enhanced by an education program in which folklore and ethnology were combined. Very few German ethnographical holdings were preserved in West Berlin. Thus the Volkskunde was incorporated into the Völkerkunde Museum for a short time, before becoming an independent museum again in 1963. The European ethnographica of the Völkerkunde Museum were limited to special exhibitions or study collections for the public. In 1992 the collections in East and West Berlin were united to form the Museum of Folklore.
Cooperative work between the European collections in the Ethnological Museum and Museum of Folklore has increased since the 1980s through joint exhibitions and conferences, and since 1990 the vision of one common museum with a European emphasis was propagated. Finally on June 24, 1999, this goal was realised with the establishment of the Museum Europäischer Kulturen (Museum of European Cultures).