Dr Julien Drouart
Ceramics Museum: a model of citizen initiative
Updated: Jan 12, 2022
The Ceramics Museum is first and foremost a social and civic adventure: the desire to preserve heritage and to meet in an intimate setting.
A visit to the Ceramics Museum is optional. It is also a personal favourite.
In one of the most beautiful locations in the Charlottenburg district, a very old house hosts the Ceramics Museum. Usually, the architecture of an exhibition space is at the service of the museography. The relationship is now reversed and the collections inhabit the building to enhance its value. This building is indeed important because it is one of the last witnesses of the old Charlottenburg, at a time when the Greater Berlin we know today did not exist.
Initially a leisure resort for some of the Prussian aristocracy in search of tranquillity and relaxation, Charlottenburg quickly prospered to become a major economic and demographic centre, the second largest in Brandenburg after Berlin, then on the other side of the Tiergarten. To counteract this influence, initiatives to create an unified province around Berlin multiplied but constantly met with hostility from the local elites.
Finally, the project of a megalopolis Berlin was realised at the end of the First World War with the annexation of 7 cities and nearly 60 surrounding municipalities. The irony is delicious, for it is no longer Berlin that wishes to agglomerate its opulent neighbours, but the suburbs that wish to counteract the Marxist influence that was threatening them. Built in 1712 and declared a heritage site in 1983, the house on Schustehrusstrasse brings the old Charlottenburg back to life, and it is the task of the Ceramics Museum to preserve it.
A disappointing exhibition area, but...
The museum is very welcoming and one enters it as if in a house. The whole has been renovated and pretty pastel colours are next to more modern spaces, suitable for exhibiting collections of fine ceramics, Andalusian and Italian majolica, with some oriental and raku pieces adding a certain cachet to the place. The porcelain works are displayed alongside the stoneware ones in an airy and pleasant museography.
However, apart from the museum's reception staff, the visitor will have access to almost no information, whether about the pieces themselves, the artists or even the different techniques involved in firing or glazing pieces. The history of ceramics is not covered and, indeed, the collections are primarily contemporary.
Moreover, the lack of educational interaction, the small number of pieces on display and the ultimately very small size of the exhibition will leave a feeling of emptiness, considering that this is less a museum than a gallery. It should be remembered that the temporary exhibitions are frequently renewed and very diversified.
It is only after leaving an outbuilding used as an exhibition space that the visitor will be surprised and charmed by the museum's intriguing inner courtyard, where an old-fashioned romanticism prevails.
This initiative should be encouraged and supported
In absolute terms, the museum space is rather limited and the collections unfortunately too small. One will quickly get the hang of it, especially since the ceramics are presented in their most profound form, namely modern art.
Nevertheless, a good museum is not necessarily exhaustive or superlative. This museum occupies a building that was once threatened with destruction and was preserved as a result of citizen mobilisation. Its continuation has been ensured by the members of a support association who not only welcome and guide visitors, but also acquire new pieces. The museum's volunteer staff is therefore extremely competent, guided only by their passion for ceramic art and their dedication to bringing an exemplary civic initiative to life.
The fact that most of the museum's acquisitions are bequests from former members raises the question of memory and continuity. Better still, this museum space preserves and enhances an architectural heritage on a human scale. The approach is admirable and is part of a local and participatory logic.
Reasons to go
Preservation of the architectural heritage
A warm welcome and very competent staff
An intimate setting to enjoy on a sunny afternoon
Reasons to avoid
Unusual opening hours and a relatively high price