The historic collections of the Werkbundarchiv – Museum der Dinge are both an intentional and a contingent result of a collecting practice that is oriented both towards exhibition and towards research, especially on the German Werkbund. Up to turn of the century, the collection largely consisted of exhibits on display. Projects of that period were directly concerned with the topic of collecting and with the structure and conception of the Museum’s collection. These were:

  • “Impermanent Exhibition of the Collection of the Werkbund-Archiv” (1995–98)
  • “Commoditized Beauty – A Journey through Time” (1999)
  • “Collecting in an Open System” (2000–2002).

Since 2007, the collection on permanent display has also been part of this concept, and was designed and established to highlight fundamental aspects of the collection’s structure.

About the Collection

Unlike the collections of many other museums, that of the Werkbundarchiv – Museum der Dinge is dialogical or polyphonous in its structure and history. The Museum’s collection has several points of intersection with other Berlin museums. It allows historians to reconstruct the role of things in industrialized society from many perspectives, ranging from cultural and design history to engineering and sociology.

With the archives of the Deutscher Werkbund as its core, the Museum’s collecting and exhibiting activities are not limited to the production of Werkbund artists and companies, but also include the Werkbund’s sphere of action – day-to-day life and the commodity-producing society.

This publicly funded work has been going on since 1973, and has resulted in a collection of some 40,000 documents and 40,000 objects, most of which originated in the 20th century.

About the Name

“Werkbundarchiv” refers to the institution’s and the collection’s historic focus: the Deutscher Werkbund. The core activity of the institution is to understand and communicate the history, strategy and influence of that association of artists, architects, industrialists, engineers, artisans and designers as one of many Lebensreform movements of the 20th century. Consequently, the collection has a dual perspective: first, it reflects an investigation of the basis of all design, and the concept of quality, with reference to material, form, function; and second, it examines issues of marketing and commodity culture, including labeling, branding, corporate strategies, designer names, etc. These two perspectives correspond to the two lines of the Werkbund strategy: Entzeichnen, “de-signing”, and Bezeichnen, the “designation” of things.

The institution’s second name, Museum der Dinge – “Museum of Things”, adopted in 1999 – refers to its other field of work, the material and product culture of the 20th century. (Historically, the Werkbundarchiv rarely dealt with architecture and its history with the exception of Bruno Taut and the Glass Pavilion, which was not a conventional exhibition of architectural history.) Museum der Dinge also refers to the museum’s conception as a self-reflexive museological institution, making the system and structure of “museum” a theme of its work, questioning objects as exhibits – the aestheticisation of commodities; the ready-made effect – and making museums’ role in the formation of systems and canons transparent.

About the Contents of the Collection

  • The collection includes objects and documents that bear witness to the history and goals of the Werkbund, including the perpetuation of the Werkbund ideals in our time.
  • Because the Deutscher Werkbund set itself the task of reforming everyday culture, the scope of the collection is not limited to the history of design.
  • The collection is concentrated on the product culture of the 20th and 21st centuries, a period characterized by mass production and commodity culture.

As a result, the collection’s structure is dialogical: objects representing the strategies of the Deutscher Werkbund are contrasted with the kinds objects that the Werkbund “opposed” or criticized. The concentration on product and commodity culture goes hand in hand with attention to the conditions of economic and social policy in which the products are created, distributed, marketed and used.

Because of its central theme, the collection’s focus is on the objects’ expression, voice, and character. To the extent that they are intentional, these characteristics result from

the individual positions

  • of the designers (named or anonymous)
  • of the producers (companies)
  • of the distributors (sales, marketing)

the conditions

  • of production
  • of the material and the material resources
  • of the object’s function (historically derived from technical conditions)
  • of the users’ presumed needs
  • of fashion, taste, and style
  • of history, cultural history, national and regional characteristics

The unintended form of objects results from

the individual positions

  • of the consumers
  • of the users, possibly including re-users (traces of use, history of use, modification, individual marking), and from

the conditions

  •  of consumption,
  • of actual use, and
  • of disposal.

About the Geographic Focus

  • National orientation: historically conditioned by the Deutscher Werkbund; no longer appropriate to contemporary product culture
  • Significance of internationalization and globalization for product culture
  • Geographical differences in production, distribution and use

About the Historic Focus

  • Material culture from the late 19th century to the present
  • Essential to the dialogical approach: the combination and confrontation of historic and present-day product culture