Institut für Museumsforschung: The Number of Visitors to Museums in Germany in 2020, the First Year of COVID-19

Institut für Museumsforschung

The Institut für Museumsforschung (Institute for Museum Research) – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin has reported the statistics for visitors to museums in Germany, with changes due to the coronavirus pandemic: The number of visitors slumped as expected, to around 33.6 million, while digital activities increased significantly.

33.6 Million Visitors to German Museums in 2020: 70% Less than in 2019

The museums participating in the survey reported a total of 33,550,296 visitors for 2020, representing a good two-thirds less (−69.9%) than was recorded in 2019. Of the 6,484 museums contacted, 45% reported their visitor statistics to the Institut für Museumsforschung. Another 10% reported they were not open to the public in 2020 because of renovations or pandemic restrictions.

2020, the first year of living with COVID-19, brought dramatic changes across the German museum landscape. Lockdowns in spring and late fall led to legally mandated closures of between 96 (Thuringia) and 118 days (Schleswig-Holstein). Institutions that decided to stay open in the summer were barely able to utilise their visitor capacities because of strict health and safety regulations. The current findings of the aggregate statistical survey makes clear that 2020 marked a historic turning point for the museum and exhibition sector after decades of steadily rising visitor numbers, most recently with a total of 111.6 million in 2019.

2.3 Million Visitors to Exhibition Spaces: 57% Fewer than in 2019

The separately collected statistics for the number of visitors to exhibition spaces also showed a sharp decline in comparison with 2019. For 2020 this represented a total of 2,328,333 visitors (−57.1%). Of the 505 institutions contacted, 60% reported their visitor numbers statistics to the Institut für Museumsforschung.

“Closed, but Always Available”: The Increase in Digital Activities

Despite the pandemic, those museums that held special exhibitions were particularly active, as in previous years. A total of 1,449 museums reported 3,599 special exhibitions, corresponding to an average of 2.5 exhibitions per museum.

Among those exhibitions, 11.6% were presented digitally, with 2.1% exclusively making use of a digital format. Over a third (36%) of the some 4000 museums responding also stated they had generally expanded their digital activities. Not only had they moved existing content online (13%), but in many cases they also developed new digital content and media (20%) or stepped up their social media activities.

For Dr Patricia Rahemipour, director of the Institut für Museumsforschung, one thing is clear:

Although museums were unable to open to the public for at least three months, they were always present. They used the time for research and work with their collections and to develop innovative, often digital content and online activities. The pandemic crisis has given digitalisation an incredible boost.

And David Vuillaume, executive director of the Deutscher Museumsbund (German Museums Association) adds:

After the initial shock, museums responded extremely effectively. They showed themselves to be ready and able to transition right from the start. This is also reflected in how professionally and proactively the challenges are being dealt with and how profoundly the pandemic experience is influencing current discussions about the future and the social relevance of museums.

More Statistics & Materials on the Pandemic’s Impact Will Be Available in March 2022

Additional information and data about the German museum landscape during the first year of the pandemic, in particular the results of the special survey on the impact of COVID-19 in 2020, can be found in the Statistische Gesamterhebung an den Museen der Bundesrepublik Deutschland für das Jahr 2020 (Statistical Survey of Museums in the Federal Republic of Germany for the Year 2020). The publication appears as volume 76 in the series Zahlen & Materialien aus dem Institut für Museumsforschung (Statistics and Materials from the Institut für Museumsforschung) and will be available for download in March 2022 (in German).