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Plague escape, projector and dark science

The Uniseum developed three new exhibition areas during the closure.


The corona pandemic dealt a heavy blow to cultural life. Museums, theaters and cinemas were forced to close their doors in the lockdown, gradually resuming operations over the summer. The same goes for the Uniseum of the University of Freiburg. With the rising number of infections - Freiburg has been declared a corona hotspot in mid-October 2020 - it cannot be foreseen what form of cultural life will take place in fall and winter. Will visitors be allowed to come? Or will the living rooms at home be converted back into movie theaters and the museums have to switch to virtual tours?

Come what may come: The Uniseum has taken advantage of the closure to revise its offers. In recent weeks, three new exhibition areas have been created. "They offer exciting insights into the University at the time of the plague, the anatomical-anthropological collection, and the Academic Film Club," says curator Sandra Haas. In addition, she is increasingly using digital channels to draw attention to the Uniseum's treasures. This includes, for example, a series on the University of Freiburg's Instagram channel that presents selected exhibits and their backgrounds every Wednesday: "Of course, this is only a small glimpse of our holdings, but this way we can at least keep our virtual doors open," says Haas.

Although the current pandemic poses challenges for the University of Freiburg, this is not the first time an epidemic has disrupted operations. "In earlier times, members of the University of Freiburg repeatedly fled plague outbreaks and sought shelter in Villingen, for example," Haas says. From the mid-15th to the beginning of the 17th century, the plague ravaged Freiburg at least 16 times. The loss of professors and students who died from the disease and the decline in matriculation caused great difficulties for the University. At first, some professors and students tried to escape the plague on their own. However, the escape behavior changed over time: In the course of the plague epidemics, the initially unorganized leaving became a planned, institutionalized relocation to a common place. "The small, temporary exhibition shows that in earlier times, too, epidemics forced the University to shut down or relocate," says the curator, "though not to the digital world, but to the Black Forest."


A new era of film

The "Zeiss Ikon Kinobox" cinema projector from the 1930s, a permanent loan from the Academic Film Club, is new in the Uniseum. Film projectionists used to travel from place to place and transform any room into a cinema hall with such a device. The Academic Film Club Freiburg bought the projector, which was the first to be able to show films in the standard 35mm cinema format, in 1962. "Although the box was only in use for about three years, it marked the beginning of a new era of student film screenings," says Haas.

In terms of content, the public can discover the most extensive new addition at a hexagonal exhibition table that complements the exhibition wall on Alexander Ecker, that was redesigned in 2019. He was an anatomist and anthropologist working in Freiburg from 1850 and founded the controversial collection. It partly contains human remains, the acquisition of which is considered ethically and scientifically problematic from today's perspective. How should the University deal with this heritage? What significance is given to the collection? What should be done with it in the future?


Six perspectives at one table

To this end, the table presents six different perspectives: Six drawers are embedded below the tabletop, in which the views of the University, anthropology, the University Archive, the platform, the societies of origin, and the history of science are explained using texts and objects. "The revised unit critically examines the theme of the collection as well as Alexander Ecker and incorporates current findings and perspectives," summarizes the curator. And the reappraisal continues: The German Lost Art Foundation is funding a new project in which Freiburg researchers will investigate the provenance of human remains from the anatomical-anthropological collection.


         by Annette Kollefrath-Persch

Published in German in uni'leben 03/2020 (p.8)