Berlin’s Natural History museum celebrates 200th jubilee

The Berlin Museum of Natural History celebrates 200 years of scientific innovation this month with the inauguration of its restored east wing, destroyed by Allied bombs, and a special exhibition full of remarkable rarities.

Berlin's Natural History museum celebrates 200th jubilee
Photo: DPA

The stately museum, home to some 30 million objects, among them the largest mounted dinosaur skeleton in the world, has curated special selections from its massive collection to highlight two centuries of developments in natural history.

For the exhibition, entitled Klasse, Ordnung, Art, or “Class, order, species,” the museum turns the magnifying glass back on itself, exploring the evolution of natural history itself, the changing ideas of collection strategies, and how the country’s political history has coloured this past.

“We have a lot of curiosities here,” head of exhibitions Prof. Dr. Ferdinand Damaschun said during a press tour on Monday, pointing to stuffed Vasa parrot “Jacob,” the long-time pet of museum founder Alexander von Humboldt.


According to Damaschun, each day an ageing Humboldt would ask the parrot, which could speak a bit, which of the two would outlive the other.

“In the end Jacob won, but when he died a few months later taxidermists found out that he should have been called Jacobina,” Damaschun said.

Many treasures and oddities like the stuffed bird, collected by researchers around the world, will be exhibited for the first time in the show. Among them are exquisitely iridescent blown-glass models of jelly fish, a beautifully-penned 16th-Century specimen log book, and museum director Reinhold Lienfelder’s personal favourite, a remarkable a sea foam-coloured antique cabinet full of rare corals.

While many of the pieces embody a strange beauty, others don’t shy from what exhibition curator Damaschun called the “dark parts of history.”

One example: A gentle-eyed giant panda that Nazi Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göring (who also happened to be the Third Reich’s Jägermeister) had stuffed for a 1935 international hunting exhibition in Berlin.

“Animals that are now under the strictest of protections were at one time trophies,” Damaschun explained. “We don’t know how it came into the collection, but we put it in the exhibition to show the difficulties the museum has had during different eras.”

The anniversary of one of Berlin’s oldest museums also means a first glimpse of the newly rebuilt east wing, which now holds the institution’s impressive “wet collection” of about one million zoological specimens preserved in large glass vials.

Hit by Allied bombs in 1945, the east wing of the Museum für Naturkunde, holding the entomological collection at the time, was heavily damaged. But the €29.6-million renovations have created optimal conservation and fire-protection conditions for the specimens, which swim in some 80-tonnes of alcohol.

The museum’s half-million visitors per year, along with scores of researchers who come from around the world, can now view and investigate some 270,000 specimens of fish, snakes, snails, frogs and other animals collected over the years.

The massive new room, full from floor to ceiling with the illuminated jars of pickled creatures, is undoubtedly the highlight of the museum’s anniversary celebration – but there will be many more events throughout the month of September, including concerts, special tours, children’s theatre and more.

The new exhibition Klasse, Ordnung, Art is open September 14 to February 28.

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.