The Haus der Geschichte Foundation started establishing a collection in 1986. It features suitable objects that would physically document contemporary history and could act as exhibits: everyday items, documents, films and other media, magazines, machines, furniture, textiles, and much more besides. Today, the collection features almost 1 million items, and alongside the physical objects, increasingly digital items are being added to the collection. At least three criteria determine whether an object, document or medium is incorporated into the collection: Is the object typical of its day (e.g., a Free German Youth blouse) or absolutely unique (e.g., the “Schabowski Notes”)? Or does it, thirdly, come with a special history? Whatever the case, the item must above all be exciting and in itself or together with others tell a story. The duffle bag that Elvis Presley had with him in 1958 when he started serving as a GI in West Germany attests to the importance of the US entertainment industry in Germany and alludes to the Cold War. And for Elvis fans it has a special emotional significance, too!
One important basis of our museum work in Bonn, Leipzig and Berlin is collecting. We are helping to create a “cultural memory” of our society. Our task is to follow contemporary historical events closely, to consider including more recent historical events in the exhibition and to collect potential objects. Be it the refugee crisis, Brexit or Germany’s World Cup prowess, for us this means we decide whether current events could be or become relevant to contemporary history and add objects to our collection that tell a story relating to this. The collection concept extensively explains how the Foundation’s collection is structured and how it gets expanded, updated and rendered accessible.