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Interview with Jörn Grabowski, Manager of the Central Archive

29.03.2012
Zentralarchiv

Everything we always wanted to know about the Central Archive…
Manager Jörn Grabowski has the answers.

All institutes of the National Museums in Berlin hand over materials to the Central Archive to be documented. What exactly do you archive and what criteria do you use to decide what should be kept for the future?

Here you'll find files on all the collections, photos (especially historical plans of buildings and interiors from the various museums and collections), plans of the museum buildings, bequests from specialists and artists that have a particular connection to the National Museums in Berlin. On top of that are documents on the history of the museums, their expansion and the extreme losses they have suffered, for example, during the National Socialist campaign "Degenerate Art" in 1937 or through the terrible destruction caused by the Second World War. Worth keeping is simply everything that documents what is mentioned above and that could be valuable to the next generations.

Do you have a "favourite discovery" that you have made in the Central Archive?
There isn't just one. What particularly interests me is the passion of former museum managers and their employees for collecting. The battle to obtain an artwork that one absolutely wants to add to a collection, combined with what can sometimes be long drawn out negotiations with artists or dealers is impressive. The presentation of artworks in the permanent exhibitions during different time periods and political systems is incredibly exciting.

The profession of archivist has a somewhat fusty image at times. What do you think makes this particular job so interesting?
The main thing is the originals that the archivist gets to work with. Even if these are sometimes tattered and well thumbed or covered with layers of dust from many years, they are contemporary witnesses on paper. The traces of our ancestors that they contain are authentic and have not, like in many publications, already been considered abstractly and evaluated. The original text conserves a more or less unspoiled view of the past. You learn how everything happened and that is wonderful.

The Central Archive is moving this year from the Museum Island to the nearby Archaeological Centre at Museumshöfen. What does this move mean for you?
It's a very exciting development for us. The archive's stock has been divided among several houses for years, more or less in provisional accommodation. Often, the only way to get at a particular object involves long routes, awkward stairways and lifts. Bringing all the stock together in adequate space for both storage and offices, and not far from the reading room will greatly improve the working conditions of the whole archive team. As well as that, the Central Archive, which as a scientific institute of the Museums has been highly valued for years, will now be properly represented to the outside with this move to the Archaeological Centre.