This article explores two modes of innocence at work in the making of the Humboldt Forum, Germany's biggest cultural project. It examines the legacy of the historical castle's “cabinet of curiosities” and the elevation of the Humboldt brothers, especially Alexander von Humboldt, to patron saints. Through these cases, the article identifies an exculpatory mode of innocence focused on the past and an anticipatory mode focused on the future. These modes, it argues, exemplify a tension between the imagination of history as a timeless realm that eschews redemption and as fungible materials that can be recombined to start anew and redeem the past.
Jonathan Bach is a Professor of Global Studies at The New School in New York. His recent work examines the politics of memory in everyday life, material culture, and changing urban space in Germany and China. He is the author of What Remains: Everyday Encounters with the Socialist Past in Germany (2017), and co-editor of Re-Centring the City: Global Mutations of Socialist Modernity (2020) and Learning from Shenzhen: China's Post-Mao Experiment from Special Zone to Model City (2017).