Permanent exhibition

Mark Twain Center for Transatlantic Relations

The permanent exhibition will take shape over the next three years. The concept is designed around the following guiding principles.

A presentation of German-American history through the example of Heidelberg will be displayed across an area of 900 m². A number of rooms at the MTC that have particular historical significance will be an integral part of the exhibition (the Commanding General’s Office and Keys Building Conference Room) and will be complemented by multimedia installations to form the central focus of the MTC’s educational and creative activities. Each year two special exhibitions will take place in an additional exhibition space of around 130 m². These special exhibitions may evolve from ongoing research into specific aspects of the overall subject matter and go on to become part of the permanent exhibition (an exhibition on Mark Twain’s time in Heidelberg is already planned). The exhibitions will be further augmented by an accompanying program of events with contemporary voices, panel discussions involving academic experts, readings and musical entertainment.

The permanent exhibition is intended to facilitate multiperspectivity and provide space for the history portrayed to be questioned and explored. The links between Germans and Americans have undergone constant transformation and so resist simplistic historical classification or dominant viewpoints. The exhibition should illustrate the way military personnel, peace activists, civilian staff, local government officials, members of German-American clubs and associations, entertainers and Heidelberg citizens lived and worked together. Within this, account must also be taken of the demographic changes that have transformed Heidelberg into a multinational, multifaith society

Visitors will be able to experience how friend and foe were able to coexist during the post-war years, as well as the way tensions and conflicts developed in the following period and how means of resolving these conflicts were found (or not). It was not only post-war history that shaped German and American perceptions in this respect. Heidelberg and the USA are linked by intense experiences on both sides, including Mark Twain’s visit to the city and the mass emigration of Germans from the Palatinate region. An exploration in the exhibition of these historical links is therefore important in facilitating historical understanding.

The ethos of the exhibition is deliberately open and doesn’t seek to convey a dominant narrative. Visitors will be invited to explore shared German and American history from different viewpoints. The exhibition should thereby also facilitate reflection about our own perceptions. In order to achieve this, the future users must be involved early on in the design of the exhibition. Space must be made equally for the perspectives of someone from 1950s Heidelberg, the experiences of an American GI and the views of someone who has moved to the city from Iraq. Close cooperation with existing organizations and interest groups that form part of the German-American partnership is an essential element of this and has already begun.

The permanent exhibition will address the developments that are of central importance in understanding German-American relations in Heidelberg and the historic role of the city. The first topic area (Historical Site) will examine the Nazi influence on the city’s past. During the conversion process the architectural structure of the site and the many Nazi-era artistic and propaganda elements at the former Campbell Barracks will be largely preserved and will therefore have a distinctive influence on the place, on the living environment of the residents and on the people who work at and visit it. In addition, at the Mark Twain Center the historical context will be analyzed and the astonishingly comprehensive preservation of these Nazi propaganda elements by the Americans will be explored.

A second theme will be an investigation of the strong links between Heidelberg and the USA since the 19th century, revealed through individual biographical portraits with images, text and sound installations (Transatlantic Movements). Here the focus is both on the contribution of German-Americans to American history (e.g. in the education system) and on individual migration failures and anti-German sentiment before and during the First World War. During this period American travelers and students were largely effusively enthusiastic about their time in Heidelberg. In this regard the intention is to establish a room dedicated to the man who gave his name to the Mark Twain Center and his satirical and detailed commentaries on ‘being German’ and on German culture.

In terms of German-American relations, the period since 1945 is of the greatest significance and will be divided into three overarching themes: The Military and Protest; Life and Work; and Entertainment. The historical traces of the American presence in Heidelberg will be vividly brought to life by an interactive model of the city. Through its distinctive role as the strategic focus of the US presence in Europe and multinational headquarters of NATO, Heidelberg became the epicenter of all the main conflicts of the Cold War. To illustrate this crucial role, the historic Commanding General’s Office will be restored to its original state. The idea is to enable visitors to experience personally the strategic struggle for the political balance of power. To achieve this, instead of a complex presentation, an interactive console on the theme of ‘Power and Balance’ will be installed. Through different game situations with multiple protagonists, visitors will be able to experience and direct strategic decision-making processes in historical conflict situations.

Other parts of the exhibition will focus on the role of the US military in society (e.g. in relation to the integration of African Americans) and the significance of the military in the local and regional economy. The disputes over American military and global political engagement which characterized German-American relations are reflected in diverse opposition and protest activities in Heidelberg.

The design of the exhibition should reflect a participatory approach. The basic technical structure of the exhibition is configured so that further dynamic developments in the future can easily be accommodated. We are seeking people to work with us on a voluntary basis to share their personal experiences and bring different aspects to life, such as the very active German-American youth work, the culture of clubs and associations and the wealth of cultural exchange that took place. Visitors will also have opportunities for participation as they will be invited to engage in an active exploration of current contradictions and disputes in transatlantic relations.

The design of the permanent exhibition will be strongly aligned with the principle of biographical discovery and learning. The evolving history will be illustrated by numerous individual biographies, complemented by explanations of the historical context. At various points in the exhibition visitors will be able to explore the biographies of individuals, such as a female soldier, a civilian employee or a Heidelberg club owner. The information will be conveyed primarily through the use of multimedia stations and interactive elements, offering visitors a fun, hands-on experience. The technical construction of the design means the exhibition can continually be extended, so that in the medium and long term new discoveries and individual stories can regularly be integrated into the existing structure.