Plans underway for first Czech museum dedicated to former German speaking minority

Blanka Mouralová

The first German speakers settled in the Czech lands in the 13th century, and in the interwar period there were around three million ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakia. That changed completely after World War II, when almost all of them were forcibly expelled from the country. Now, however, their history is being reclaimed – with plans to open the first museum in the Czech Republic dedicated to the country’s former German minority.

Preparations are underway to open the Czech Republic’s first ever museum dedicated to the region’s former German speaking minority. It will be located in the north Bohemian town of Ústí nad Labem, not far from the Czech-German border. Presenting the project in Prague, organiser Blanka Mouralová said there was no doubt ethnic Germans had left an indelible mark on this part of the world.

“Over a long period of time German speaking inhabitants made up a large section of the population in the Czech lands. You can see their legacy is all areas of life: in industry, but also in culture, in music, in politics, in literature – for example the work of the Prague German speaking authors… For us it would enrich our understanding of our culture if we could return these figures to the interpretation of our history.”

Milena Bartlová,  photo:
Professor Milena Bartlová is an expert in this field, and one of the people behind the museum project. She says many Czechs have a long way to go to accepting their country’s multi-ethnic past.

“Most Czech people today would never admit that German history belongs in their own historical identity. The aim of our museum is precisely to try to enlarge the concept of Czech historical identity to encompass German speaking… people – it wasn’t always a minority. Including the Jews, of course.”

Most of the exhibits being gathered for the new museum are from the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, when many leading industrialists in what is today the Czech Republic were German speakers. Czechs have come to regard several products originally created by Germans as their own, and Professor Bartlová says the museum should help open their eyes.

“We hope to be able to show quite a lot of those emotionally charged objects which relate to the history of industrial production in Bohemia. That means for instance old machines, old cars – because one of the points of the museum is to show, predominantly to the Czechs, how many important personalities, especially from the area of industry and science, were in fact part of the German speaking part of the country.”

The Museum of German History and Culture in the Czech Lands is due to open in Ústí nad Labem in the first half of 2012.