The spring lockdown began a week earlier in Vienna. One by one, museums closed their doors, schools and stores quickly followed suit.

Matti Bunzl, director of the Vienna Museum, quickly realized that the history of his city was intimately linked to this historic moment. He called on his fellow Viennese to send objects, photos and films to document current COVID life for posterity. “Without this intervention, the objects used during this period which would make the crisis understandable to future generations would have been lost,” Bunzl told DW. After all, no comparable record had been archived for a previous pandemic.

Little evidence of daily life during plague, cholera

“We would have liked to have had analogical evidence of plague or cholera outbreaks. These were irretrievably lost. But the objects that accompanied us during COVID were not,” Bunzl said.

These Easter eggs depicted a coronavirus theme, including physical distancing rules

Since the call launched on March 25 for “objects of everyday life during the coronavirus pandemic”, more than 3,000 submissions have arrived at the museum in Vienna. A selection of 235 of them was presented on the museum’s website. Among them are notices from the Vienna Police Department, hospital passes, homemade and commercially produced protective masks and special contactless door openers created via 3D printers.

The Cologne City Museum also wants to report this exceptional situation to posterity. Residents have been urged to save all that is new and different.

More than 40 historically relevant objects have been collected so far according to research associate Stefan Lewejohann, who is in charge of COVID memories. Wrapped toilet paper, for example, reflects fear of not being able to meet basic needs. A funeral photo showing two people at a grave highlights hygiene rules that have kept people from gathering.

Letterboxes handcrafted by schoolchildren are also part of the archives. Unable to meet face to face, it was the means by which they communicated with each other. Lewejohann sees it as an exceptional challenge to archive the present as the pandemic rages on.

“Fundamental event in medical history”

Like the Vienna Museum, the Cologne City Museum also has minimal records of plague or cholera epidemics from the Middle Ages. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has been documented across Germany. City museums, medical history museums and historical museums are all emulating the Viennese example and are starting to collect COVID memorabilia.

A kiosk with plastic wrap hanging in front of the cash register

Part of the Vienna collection: a photo of a kiosk with plastic wrap hanging in front of the cash register

Historians at the Haus der Geschichte Bonn (House of the History of the Federal Republic of Germany) in Bonn also quickly understood that this pandemic was “a fundamental event in medical history that will shape Germany and the whole world. in various aspects, “said a spokesperson. said DW.

The museum has developed three new collection themes: “COVID and everyday life”, “COVID and the economy” and “COVID and death”. They currently have around 600 objects in their collection. However, the House of History did not call for nominations, but rather actively researched the objects themselves.

Jester caps, soccer balls and holy water

Among the most important items in their collection is the jester cap of the president of the Carnival Society from Gangelt, a small village in North Rhine-Westphalia, where COVID-19 is believed to have spread via a reunion. carnival.

Image of a card that looks both like a book and a window, with a plant on its side on a windowsill

Olaf Osten’s work is part of the collection on the coronavirus pandemic in Vienna

A soccer ball from the first Bundesliga “ghost match” between 1. FC Köln and Borussia Mönchengladbach is also considered to have historical value, as is holy water in packets which was distributed by churches to members of their churches. congregations.

An exhibition, however, is not yet in preparation. “As the pandemic is unfortunately still ongoing, now is not the time to talk about exposure,” the spokesperson said.

After all, the crisis is far from over. And a museum needs historical distance to interpret and classify events. Moreover, Germany is currently undergoing a second lockdown – the end of which is not yet in sight.

This article was adapted from German by Brenda Haas.


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