Anyone who visits the German Tank Museum in the garrison town of Münster on the edge of the Luneburg Heath embarks on a journey through military history. Exhibits there include tanks, military trucks, uniforms, pistols and medals. Therefore, organized and mechanical violence is the focus. The exhibition consists of two groups, the German Armed Forces Group and the Munster City Group.
German Tank Museum: “No Hall of Fame, No Place for Tradition”
on me The museum’s website states in its mission statement that the German Tank Museum is “not a hall of fame and not a place of tradition. There is little room for glorifying military values and practices as minimizing war, suffering, violence and death.” But she also says: “The German Tank Museum is not an anti-war museum. Humiliating military values and practices have as little status as the spread of pacifism.” Historian Ralf Raths has been in charge of the German Tank Museum since 2013.
Mr. Raths, these formulas show well the difficult act of balancing you are going with this museum. How would you define the mission of the museum?
Ralph Raths: We are trying to work as a normal museum on a very difficult, dark and emotionally charged subject that also excites a lot of people. We corrected the statement: in principle, it should not make any difference whether you are showing plows, piano or tanks. Of course, the concrete action changes because, for example, you have to think about more emotions with tanks than with the piano. But in principle, like any other museum, we have to approach the subject as neutral as possible and portray it in a balanced, multi-point of view and critical way.
They participate in social discussions, not only in the museum itself, but also in YouTube videos, about which they speak regularly. For example, they dispelled the myths that Hugo Boss designed the Wehrmacht’s costume. Your video addresses the question: Should museums be neutral? To whom do you want to access these videos?
Raths: People who know us and people who don’t know us. Therefore, on the one hand, it is used for advertising, so that we become visible to the outside world. It serves as a link for those who already know us. In addition, the traditional way of expressing that we get historical content via this channel.
In a video titled “Gender-Gaga in the Panzer: innen Museum” she explains why you use the language of sex in the museum. Can you briefly explain why you use the language of sex?
Raths: We’ve come to believe this is a reasonable approach to help change the real world by adapting your language to reflect the groups that language traditionally hides. We’ve been trying to do that for a while now. I consciously say “try” because I also realize that I’m partially forgetting it. And as we continue to explain our daily work on our YouTube channel, we have now made the video explaining it because we always get questions about it. The onlookers – only the men spoke – and then saw it as a change in policy, that we are now pursuing a new strategy, a new policy. This caused a huge commotion.
Can you describe the reactions?
Raths: We usually expect between 200 and 300 comments for a typical behind-the-scenes video. Now we have more than 2000 with only 30000 clicks. It’s 10 times more comments than usual. And while the ratio of pluses to minuses is usually ten to one, it’s 50/50 here. It is perfectly normal for our videos to have a stern and divided opinion. Comments – which is perfectly normal for a platform like YouTube – are almost completely negative. Surprisingly, the sharpness of the comments. It starts with demands that we be fired, right down to threats of violence that we should be purged – with all those totalitarian leftists. It is also suggested that we are part of a larger plan to divide society. We leave most comments – except for the threat of violence – so you can read about it at your leisure.
Do you think it is important that you, as director of the Museum of Military History, discuss this debate? Is this the reason for these reactions?
Raths: Naturally. Essentially, this debate on gender is above all a representational debate about the confrontation between conservative and progressive views. That’s totally fine, that’s what museums are for, that’s why we let everything stay. It’s no secret that Military Museum fanatics tend to be more conservative, because the military and the province mix so well. This isn’t a bad thing at all either. As a result, we are not surprised that the reaction was the same. What struck me was the intensity of the demands and this logic that it was all part of a grand plan. You know that from the discussions, but I didn’t think it would have such an effect.
Do you also notice discussions from visitors or is amazement at this awesome technology, which is also very mysterious, prevalent?
Raths: Both. First of all, surprising. We are glad that a thirst for knowledge is part of it, too. Surprise was the only thing that happened for a long time. We’ve noticed in recent years that people also want background information, and they also want a critical rating. But we also note that – more than many other museums – we are also a forum where people of different viewpoints meet and talk, if possible in front of tanks. This is quite satisfactory, because all museums want to be discussion forums, places for discussion. And depending on the topic, you can recover that well or more. We do it very well.
led the interview Eva Schram.