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18 C O N T E X T 1 5 7 : N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 8 MICHAEL ASSELMEYER Conservation in Germany At first glance, the organisation of conservation in Germany may seem confusing, almost exotic to a British observer, but the systems in both countries are not entirely different. In 1996, during an internship at the depart- ment for the supervision of Museum Island at the Federal Construction Board Berlin, I was involved with the on-site recording of the par- tially destroyed Neues Museum and witnessed the ongoing discussion in the recently merged civil service units about the treatment of heritage in the reunited capital. Before its reincarnation in the federal governance system, that depart- ment had already been a unit of the communist system, from where almost all of my colleagues originated. It was a unique opportunity to gain insights into different standards of conservation philosophy and politics. Apparently the government of the former German Democratic Republic had planned to complete the rebuilding of the war-damaged ensemble of the five museums, a national treas- ure and Berlin’s equivalent of Albertopolis or the Louvre, in time for the celebration of the anticipated 50th anniversary of the GDR in 1999. Construction professionals had been made available in the 1980s, but neither the workforce nor the officials had excelled in the application of international heritage and conser- vation standards. Faced with the approaching deadline, the officials back then had favoured a combination of restoration and reconstruction, and had sacri- ficed some still-standing parts of the ruin such as the Egyptian Courtyard and the north elevation of the Neues Museum, in order to rebuild them on the basis of excellent documentation. Thought had even been given to repainting the completely lost 75 metres of historiographic wall paintings by the 19th-century artist Kaulbach in the main staircase on the basis of the surviving studies. Evidently the ‘idea’ of the monument had enjoyed just as much appreciation as the fabric itself, whereas the idea of minimal inter- vention had not. While one may understand the rationale that the removal of a damaged wall would almost certainly simplify the necessary refitting of a concrete slab under the remains of the structure, and that it would be possible to reconstruct Frauenkirche, Dresden, 1726–1743, by George Bähr, destroyed 1945, rebuilt 1994–2005 using surviving masonry (Photo: Lupus in Saxonia, Wikimedia Commons)

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