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Museum Historicum20 Opened

Thanks to the association Historicum20, the former staff premises of the barracks in Bad Arolsen could be turned into a museum that was opened last Saturday. The museum shows the varied history of the barracks from 1867 to 1994, from the Kaiserreich (German Empire) to the withdrawal of the Belgian Nato troops. The International Tracing Service (ITS), too, had its home here between 1949 and 1952. “The history of the barracks is a special one which has contributed to shaping the town”, said Dr Ulrike Adamek from the Hessian Association of Museums when the site was opened in an official act before 150 guests.

Adamek calls the museum a prime example of what can be achieved when full-time and honorary staff act jointly. “This is one of the reasons why the museum ranks high regarding its quality.” On the first floor of the building the various epochs are described in their chronological order: following the withdrawal of the Waldeck regiment at the end of World War I, the barracks had been vacant before the Weimar Republic used them as school building.

During the era of National Socialism the barracks housed a SA sports training center first and then an SS-Führerschule (an advanced training college for the SS elite). Up to 120 prisoners of Concentration Camp Buchenwald detained in its Arolsen-based subsidiary “Arthur” had to do housekeeping and reconstruction work at the training college between November 1943 and March 1945. A memory room is dedicated to their fate and the fate of the Jewish families who were expelled from Arolsen and murdered.

Time lines on the walls embed the events taking place in Arolsen into the greater context of German and world history. The foyer and the museum’s entrance area cast light on the history of the ITS. School archives and a youth forum on the ground floor allow adolescents to deal with local history offering them space for presentations of their own. In another room, migrants’ families introduce the visitors to their stories. “Here, the question: What do we call home is intentionally raised”, underlines Adamek. The exhibition as a whole is intended to sympathetically place individual fates into their historical context.

As the barracks building had in part remained empty since 1994, comprehensive renovation work had become necessary. In painstaking piecemeal work, cables had to be laid and historical building components to be uncovered. “We had wrong and unrealistic ideas of the characteristics of a 150-year old building”, concedes Dr Bernd Joachim Zimmer, Chairman of Historicum20 and chief manager of the project. “There was no heating, a rudimentary system of electric cables only, and walls of diverse substance.” The costs for the renovation work were defrayed by private donors and sponsors, among them the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC