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Gesellschaft zur Förderung von Museen in Äthiopien e.V.
Society for the Promotion of Museums in Ethiopia

Speech held by the President of the Society for the Promotion of Museums in Ethiopia e.V., Dr. Kerstin Volker-Saad, on the opening event on October 18, 2015

Your honorable President Abay, Your Excellency Deputy Minister of Culture and Tourism Mulugheta Said, Your Excellency Ato Dawit Haile, Honorable Mayor Ato Gebremedhin, Dear Excellency Ambassador Schmidt, Dear Professor Ephraim Isaac, Dear Members of the Advisory Board, Dear Ato Kebede and Professor Wenig, Dear assembled community of WUKRO, Dear friends of the Wukro Museum, Ladies and Gentlemen

Representing the Society for the promotion of museums in Ethiopia, I have the great honor to say a few words about the beginning of why and how this Ethio-German museum’s project came into being and which role our society played in the founding process.

Our bi-lateral story begins in 2007, after archaeologists of the TCA had done an emergency excavation at Meqaber Ga’ewa and the first contact between Prof. Wolbert Smidt, Prof. Steffen Wenig and Ato Kebede Amare evolved. Prof. Wenig was soon after asked to perform an archaeological survey. The news about outstanding finds from this excavation site spread quickly in experts’ circles. In 2008 the Orient Department of the German Archaeological Institute in cooperation with the University of Jena, namely Prof. Dr. Riccardo Eichmann and his field director the archaeologist Dr. Pawel Wolf with his German-Ethiopian team, discovered at Meqaber Ga’ewa the Almaqah Temple from the Ethio-Sabaean period which was soon judged as being unique in Ethiopia. In a time with increasing worldwide illicit art and antique dealings the concern about the protection and conservation of these objects lead to the idea of building a Museum in Wukro. As everybody of you knows very well from one’s own experience, ideas are cheap, but the realization of it needs dedicated people, bi-laterally shared responsibilities, a lot of money and much good will.

What followed was, from my perspective, a lucky interplay between several individuals, German and Ethiopian institutions and tremendously engaged people and supporters who would join in, share the spirit, do the jobs and donate money.

In Germany the Society for the Promotion of Museums in Ethiopia was founded in Berlin in 2009 as a non-profit organization with the aim to support and advise Ethiopian institutions in planning, building and realizing museum projects. The planning of the Archaeological and Ethnographical Museum Wukro - our then valid working title - started soon after. In Wukro the Culture and Tourism Agency of the State of Tigray, nowadays the Culture and Tourism Bureau - CTB - was our designated partner on the Ethiopian side. A piece of land with an old generator building on the road to Atsby was chosen by the municipality of Wukro to be a possible location for the new museum.

In the following year a limited architectural competition was launched by the German Society. The architectural drafts were then evaluated both by us and the CTA. The winner of this competition was the architectural bureau Nedelykov & Moreira in Berlin. Their architectural proposal reflected in many ways the specific needs of this project. They considered the intercultural nature, the possibility to start with a small museum which could be extended, if needed; the specific geo-climatic conditions of Tigrai and our limited funds. The architectural drafts were the basis for the cost calculations in Tigrai. However, the result of the bidding almost brought this enthusiastically started project to a fast end, because the building boom of an awakened provincial town resulted in outrageously high prices in the construction sector. Solutions had to be found and a substantial loan from one family, who would like to stay anonymous and other generous supporters plus the Tigraian government made it possible that the building process was able to start under the supervision of the Wukro Building Department in 2013.

After a three years planning and building period during which the architect Pedro Moreira and a Senior expert Christoph Melchers as well as members of our board like Prof. Wenig, Nina Melchers and her husband  Dr. Konrad Melchers - travelled many times to the construction site to overlook the progress and follow up the process, the first part of the planned museum’s complex with 940 qm was finished in December 2014. In Wukro Ato Haylay Teklay had accompanied this building phase highly committed, reliable and with much expertise. The museum buildings were handed over to our partner TCA in time and within the given financial frame.

The Museum complex consists of the following elements:

The historic Generator building in which the first diesel-driven Generator of Wukro is located. Both the building and the generator are regarded as industrial heritage and have been carefully conserved by Prof. Keller and Dietmar Linke and their students of the Conservation Department of the University of Applied Science (HTW) in Berlin.

This building serves as a foyer for the museum and as a multifunctional event- and conference center as well as a café.

The newly constructed buildings are the exhibition hall for the archaeological finds, a store room for old and new finds from missions from the nearby area, a workshop for restoring and an administration building. Next to the entrance the tourist office on the ground floor welcomes visitors. Some features like the surrounding wall and a water tower with a watchman shelter are planned for next year to be realized. The costs for the buildings were shared; 60 % were taken over by the German society and 40% by the Tigray Regional State Government.

The architectural concept included also to design the compound as a garden which would show the diversity of Tigray’s plants. During the building period many Wukro citizens, school children and most of all the members of the St. Mary’s College actively chose, planted and cared for trees, bushes and shrubs to start the landscaping.

However, this is - as you may assume - not the end of the story. The question about the exhibition design was more than prevalent. Next to the findings in Meqaber Ga’ewa, a British mission in Maryam Anza and a French mission in Wakarida excavated many outstanding objects which were brought to the museum. Once again it was a lucky circumstance that the Design Section of the University of Applied Science joined in as a very professional and committed partner at the beginning of 2014. First it was Prof. Bauer with her students who started to develop a communication design concept. Then Prof. Katrin Hinz came with her design seminar to Wukro and stayed several weeks or even months. They developed an exhibition design as well as an educational concept, taking local design traditions and local craftsmanship into account to find design solutions that would suit both Ethiopian citizens - young and old - as well as foreign tourists who would want to learn about the treasures of Tigray. In Addis Abeba they found the Artist Assefa Gebrekidan who met the challenge of constructing showcases that had never been made in Ethiopia before. Thanks to the German Foreign Office and the support of the German Embassy part of the cost for travelling were covered from the Cultural Preservation Program.

Parallel to these activities the excavated objects were conservated and kept in the storeroom. Ato Haylay Teklay as well as Ato Yirga Assefa and Prof. Wenig started the documentation and prepared the scientific description of the objects and prepared them for the exhibition.

It was certainly a very big challenge to find solutions for problems arising during the process, when partners do not share the same language and have a specific cultural background. But finally, the parts of the altar, cult inventory, pottery, jewelry, miniature objects, incense burners and other surprising treasures which the archaeologist discovered came to the location where they were planned to be six years ago.

What will follow now? As I have mentioned and as you can see there are still some construction sites which will have to be coped with. Apart from that, museums serve as locations to preserve and safely store cultural heritage, they are a place for academic discourse and research, they are a place of learning, understanding and communicating. They are a lively place for cultural exchange. As the German partner we wish this museum to be a location with all these features, so let us work together to achieve this next goal jointly and with the same enthusiasm as we started the first phase.

A project like this is the result of a common effort of many, many people who helped with all their small and big contributions to truly unfold the whole magic of these antique treasures which are on display in this museum.

I would like to thank - in a chronological order -

  1. Our Tigrayan partner institutions the CTB and the Wukro administration, most of all Ato Kebede, Ato Haylay Teklay, who helped to realize the project in all its phases, who accompanied the scientific discoveries, took care of the find management and assisted in mounting the exhibition and Ato Yirga Assefa who joined in at the beginning of the year and strengthened the team.

  2. Our board and especially our active members of the Society for the Promotion of Museums in Ethiopia, namely Prof. Wenig who initiated this project, Nina Melchers as our manager, a position which she restlessly fills with an admirable commitment, charm and heart, Steffen Kirchner, Prof. Dr. Wolbert Smidt, Linda Gücker as well as Dr. Konrad Melchers and Ute Gärtner.

  3. The German Archaeological Institute and their Ethio-German Team, Prof. Riccardo Eichmann as well as Prof. Iris Gerlach and the archaeologists Dr. Pawel Wolf, Ulrike Nowotnick, Saskia Büchner and her staff as well as Bereket Gebretsadik, Hailay Teklay, Redae Tesfay und Fesehatsion Wolday

  4. The architect Pedro Moreira and Dr. Christoph Melchers

  5. The conservators Jan Hamann and Pia Lehmann and their staff

  6. University of Applied Science, Department of Conservation, Prof. Ruth Keller and Dietmar Linke with their 15 active students, especially Ronny Jaßmann, who is here today.

  7. University of Applied Science, Department of Communication design; Exhibition design, Prof. Birgit Bauer, Prof. Katrin Hinz and since most of the students are here I would like to name them: Anne-Marie (Groß), Laura (Klein), Hannah (Hübner), Rebecca (Kopiecki), Tony (Jankowski), Anja Groß

  8. The British and French Archaeological Missions who excavated these wonderful objects and entrusted them to the museum;

  9. All the authors of the texts for all publications you find in and around the museum;

  10. The Ethiopian and German Embassy for their supports in many ways

  11. The foreign office

  12. And last but not least for our guards Getachew and his family and Gebre Maskal

Thank you for your attention!

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