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capital and controversy

Every 15 minutes, the clatter of steam engines resounds from loudspeakers next to a transmission wheel from an early 20th-century Berlin factory. When visitors rub a black stone, the German Historical Museum suddenly smells of machine oil.

"It's about the impact of industrialization," explains the curator of the new exhibition "Karl Marx and Capitalism" in Berlin, Sabine Kritter. "On the one hand, he was enthusiastic about technology. On the other hand, he sharply criticized the poverty that was associated with it."

Many facets

Karl Marx was a man full of contradictions and many facets, says the historian Jürgen Herres, who also worked on the Marx-Engels Complete Edition at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Marx is the author of the "Manifesto of the Communist Party" published in 1848, which served as a model for regimes around the world. At the same time, the activist described parties more as fads. The interview in question was never published in the GDR, adds Herres.

According to curator Kritter, Marx relied more on trade unions than on parties. But his ideas were appropriated by ideologues in the 20th century. This is shown, for example, by the massive marble bust of the stateless European of German origin, which was given to the GDR as a state gift from the People's Republic of Romania in the so-called Karl Marx Year 1953. But the exhibition focuses on crises and conflicts when Marx was alive.

unfinished work

"We shed light on Karl Marx before his work became known through his friend Friedrich Engels," says Raphael Gross, President of the German Historical Museum Foundation. Eleven people carried the philosopher to his simple grave in London in 1883. Only later was he stylized into an icon.

According to curator Kritter, Marx's work is unfinished and controversial. The museum is presenting his personal copy of "Das Kapital" – including handwritten notes in which he revised his thoughts. "There is no one, the actual Karl Marx," says the curator. The exhibition shows how the philosopher campaigned for Jews to be treated on an equal footing with other citizens. On the other hand, a display board in the museum says: "Nevertheless, Marx resorted to common anti-Jewish stereotypes in his criticism of finance capital." Marx also campaigned for women's social rights, but not for political ones, says Kritter.

anti-Semitism, revolution and violence

"Everything is in motion," his wife Jenny Marx wrote to him in a letter about the Trier pilgrimage in 1844. "The shops have all been refurbished," visitors to the exhibition hear at this station in the museum. Alongside anti-Semitism, new technologies, revolution and violence, the destruction of nature, global economic crises and international protest and emancipation movements, the seven themes that the exhibition will be dealing with until August 21 include controversies critical of religion and society.

In it, the curator wants to appeal to all the senses. On the 500 square meters in the Pei-Bau of the German Historical Museum, visitors can also take a seat in a circular installation and, according to the museum, let the smells of capitalism waft around them. At a video station, comic-like figures explain that Marx complained that only a few people were wealthy and had the means of production. In addition, production is based on profit and not on people's needs.

Another exhibition about Wagner planned

"Two lines seemed to be exciting to me – Karl Marx politically on the left, his contemporary Richard Wagner on the right," says Raphael Gross, President of the German Historical Museum Foundation. The controversial artist and entrepreneur Richard Wagner was also elevated to an icon. That is why the German Historical Museum is planning another exhibition in Berlin from April 8 to September 11, 2022 – "Richard Wagner and the German feeling".

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