During the Cold War, the district of Dahlem was an important centre for museums in West Berlin. After the reunification of Germany, many of the art collections relocated to Mitte. In 2021–22, some 20,000 objects from the Ethnologisches Museum and the Museum für Asiatische Kunst will move into the Humboldt Forum. The storage facilities, workshops and libraries of both institutions will stay in Dahlem, as will the Museum Europäischer Kulturen, which will remain open to the public. Together, these institutions will form the core of what will be a research campus located in the Dahlem museum complex. The campus will also be home to the Institut für Museumsforschung, bringing another branch of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin to Dahlem.
Around the turn of the 20th century, Dahlem was proposed as a site for academic enquiry. In the early years of the Weimar Republic, a new building was constructed for Berlin’s collections of Asian art and artefacts after plans by Bruno Paul.
The Second World War and the breakup of Prussia initially put paid to the plans of establishing a hub of science in the southwest of Berlin. It was not until Berlin was divided into two cities and the Frieie Universität was founded that these ideas were reignited.
In 1970, the first three departments of the Museum für Völkerkunde and the Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst opened in Dahlem, and were joined a year later by the West Berlin portion of the collection of the Museum für Islamische Kunst and the Museum für Indische Kunst. In 2006, the Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst and the Museum für Indische Kunst were merged to form the Museum für Asiatische Kunst.
The Dahlem museum complex was also home to a number of collections that would later relocate to new buildings at the Kulturforum: the Kupferstichkabinett, the Gemäldegalerie and the Skulpturensammlung, which has been on display at the Bode-Museum since 2006.
After Berlin’s state museums were unified as the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz designated the Dahem museum complex as a location for showcasing non-European cultures. Once the other collections had moved out, the Ethnologische Museum and the Museum für Asiatische Kunst were able to present their collections in bigger spaces. From autumn 2021, the collections of both museums will be on display in the Humboldt Forum in Mitte.
The Museum Europäischer Kulturen was founded in 1999, as a result of the merger of the European collections of the Museum für Völkerkunde and the Museum für Volkskunde, and presents its exhibitions in the partially refurbished building originally designed by Bruno Paul.
The Institut für Museumsforschung, which was established in 1979, is located close by.
The Forschungscampus Dahlem, establishes a network made up of seven branches of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, bringing together various disciplines and areas of expertise, which has set itself the task of investigating, presenting and educating audiences about material and immaterial cultures in a collection-based way, through collectively developed lines of enquiry.