Thank you for speaking to us today! What can you tell us about the Museum Burg Posterstein and its focus on the Duchess of Courland?
The more than 800-year-old castle Burg Posterstein in Thuringia, Germany, houses a Regional History Museum. Only a few kilometres away from Posterstein are the castles of Löbichau and Tannenfeld, which were owned by the Duchess Anna Dorothea of Courland around 200 years ago. The Duchess of Courland knew the most important personalities of her time, and gathered statesmen, artists, citizens and nobility in her castle.
The Museum Burg Posterstein has been researching the history of the salon of the Duchess of Courland for more than three decades. Not only was she one of the richest women in Europe, she was also smart, politically interested and diplomatically skilled. We explore events that happened in Löbichau in exhibitions and books and put focus on people who were connected to the Duchess and her daughters. This enables us to take an ever more detailed look at Europe at the beginning of the 19th century and make visible the network of people connected to the Duchess.
What is ‘Salon Europa’?
#SalonEurope: analog meets digital Networking then and now – Europe means to me …?" was a 2018 exhibition which explored the concept of the ‘salon’ in our time, and found success in both analogue and digital form. In several newer projects, we continue this idea. One of them is the ‘Flying Salon’ project in Altenburg County, funded by the Federal Cultural Foundation within the TRAFO program, where the citizens of the region have the opportunity to interpret the salon culture completely in their own way. Furthermore, the museum wants to establish a new meeting place that brings the historical salon to life in the former north wing of the castle, which is now being rebuilt. In addition, a VR project in cooperation with the University of Erfurt and the Erfurt University of Applied Sciences is intended to make the Löbichau Salon a virtual experience from 2023.
Our website salon-europa.eu provides information about such projects in English, in order to strive for further international networking on the subject.
Some items from your collections have recently been added to the Europeana website - can you tell us about the items that have been added?
The first part of our collection we digitised, is the collection ‘Salon guests’ by Ernst Welker, drawing teacher of the Duchess of Courland’s granddaughters. During his stay at Löbichau Castle in 1819, he portrayed the Duchess and her family as well as other guests as mythical creatures. The collection consists of 47 watercolours with well-known Löbichau guests and two sketches. Ernst Welker is this year the focus of our special exhibition and new book of the same name, ‘Longing Destination Italy - The Painter Ernst Welker Travelling and in the Salon of the Duchess of Courland’ (in German).
Why was it important to you to share these items through the Europeana website?
Welker's portraits of Löbichau salon guests reflect not only the freedom and openness but also the international network of the Duchess' salon. The collection touches a huge number of exciting biographies that are worth delving deeper into. The people depicted come from a wide variety of European countries and were already internationally connected during their lifetime. We are convinced that by making the collection visible on Europeana, we can reach a greater, more international audience. We believe that it offers the chance to exchange ideas with other institutions that are researching similar topics and have comparable collections.
How are you going to engage the public with these collections, online and in person?
We provide regular and detailed information about new research projects in our museum blog and on our website, and we also have a German language podcast LeseZEIT auf Burg Posterstein. We have taken part in the culture hackathon Coding da Vinci Ost in Leipzig with the Welker Collection, which resulted in the possibility to easily design and print out a Welker cover image for your transparent smartphone case using the Cover Boutique web app.
The digitised objects from the salon guests collection are also part of the VR salon, the implementation of which is currently in the final phase. In the virtual salon, visitors with VR glasses will be able to see the painter Ernst Welker at work, while his drawing student Emilie von Binzer presents her favourite portraits.
We are also active on social media, and were delighted to win the DigAMus Award for Social Media in 2021.
How does this work fit in with your institution’s wider approach to digital?
We plan all exhibitions and educational projects both digitally and in analogue. We have been sharing our research results for many years now (in addition to analogue museum publications), since 2010, through the museum blog and, since 2021, in our podcast. Researchers benefit from the increased visibility, as does the museum itself, and this has resulted in many fruitful synergies.
The salon of the Duchess of Courland is a European topic, which is why we increasingly communicate about it in English. Since 2018, we have worked hard to add our collection of salon guests to Europeana - tirelessly supported by Peter Soemers, Chair of the Europeana Network Association Communicators Community. Europeana is exactly the right place for this collection and we hope that this will lead to further international networking.
You won the DigAMus Award for Social Media in 2021 - how do you think that social media can be used to support engagement with cultural heritage?
With our museum work, we want to show how cultural education can be rethought with the help of the Internet. Cultural education does not only have to take place on site in the museum. We find ourselves in a challenging world. Museums can participate in society with their educational work, they can strengthen the bond between citizens and their region and strengthen social values. For this we need concepts that look beyond the horizon, that break new ground, that encourage people to start talking to each other.
Since the #SalonEuropa 2018 exhibition, we have repeatedly relied on hands-on activities that aim to interact with visitors and communicate knowledge in an entertaining way, both online and on site. Every further action strengthens our network of interested citizens and cultural institutions, which in turn has benefited us many times in our museum work. Our recommendation is therefore: Network, share your content, be communicative and stay open to new things.