GERMANS IN BRITAIN: a new exhibition

‘There’s more to Anglo-German relations than war and football’ (Joanna Lumley)

To mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the first world war, The Migration Museum Project has created a new exhibition that explores the rich and fascinating history of German migrants to Britain.

Across the centuries, Germans in Britain have been loved or hated, admired or demonised, but their impact has been immense. The exhibition looks at the many ways in which British sport, science, banks, businesses, music, monarchs, art and design have all been shaped by their German connections, and asks the question: Are we sworn enemies or affectionate siblings?

It is a fascinating story, peppered with both familiar and unfamiliar names. Many people know about Ludwig Guttmann, whose work at Stoke Mandeville hospital in effect founded the Paralympic movement; but what about the Nuremberg engineer who founded Triumph motorbikes in Coventry? Or the early 19th century German chemist whose company eventually became British Gas?

Other famous British brands such as Dr. Martens and Persil are also a product of Anglo-German cooperation. Britain’s best-known seaside building, the de la Warr Pavillion in Bexhill, was designed by a German architect, and English art would not be the same without Hans Holbein, who brought Renaissance painting to the court of Henry VIII.

In 2014, the German influence remains as strong as ever – Germany is now the UK’s biggest trading partner, while in sport, Arsenal has five German players in its squad.

The exhibition includes a ‘cabinet of curiosites’ and a video in which Germans in today’s Britain reflect on what their heritage means to them. The speakers in the video are Lord Moser, who came to Britain in 1936; Beatrice Behlen, a museum curator, who came to Britain in 1989; and Henning Wehn, Germany’s ‘Comedy Ambassador’ to Britain’ who came in 2002.

The exhibition will be curated by Dr Cathy Ross, formerly head of collections at the Museum of London.

Migration Museum Project director Sophie Henderson said: ‘We really wanted to look at this story because it needs to be better known. In the 19th century, Germans made up the largest group of foreign-born people in Britain, and even today they are the fifth largest. Yet the story of what Germans contributed to Britain is so often overlooked. At a time when the UK’s relationship with Europe is very much in the public eye, we thought this would be a timely contribution to the debate.’

Migration Museum supporter Joanna Lumley said: ‘There’s more to Anglo-German relations than war and football! I’m delighted to support this exhibition which shows just how central migration has been in Britain’s history.’

The first showing of the exhibition is at the German Historical Institute in Bloomsbury Square, London . The GHIL Director , Prof Dr Andreas Gestrich, said: ‘We are delighted to host the exhibition. The German Historical Institute London is itself a result of the rich history of German migration as the project was initiated by German immigrant scholars in Britain and scholars in Germany. And obviously the long and rich history of the two nations and of Anglo-German cooperation is at the very core of the GHIL’s research interests and academic exchange programmes. I hope that this exhibition brings this rich history to a wider audience.’

The exhibition runs from 18 September – 24 October, Monday – Friday: 10am – 5pm (closed 24 September for a schools event). It is also being shown at St John’s College Oxford in November (dates tbc) to coincide with an academic conference on Hanoverian Britain.

The Migration Museum Project is compiling a series of photos that capture the essence of the Anglo-German relationship.

*This is the official press release and I have been asked to publish this on behalf of the German Historical Institute. 

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