Humans are the only beings who know that they will die. The knowledge of our transience is a driving force for art, culture and science and confronts us with existential, individual and global questions. From April to November 2023, the Humboldt Forum dedicated a diverse programme to the topic of living with death with a scenically designed special exhibition, a programme of events and educational activities and an accompanying book.

© Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss / RFK Architects Alan Farlie; Tom Piper; Studio ZNA; xkopp; Framegrabber; Idee und Klang Audio Design; Torero Film, Rouven Rech & Teresa Renn, Georg Lendorff / Gareth Fry, Video: FilmDas

How do we live with death? What is a good death? What will remain of us? The tour of the exhibition began with these questions and a film prologue about the role of Homo Sapiens in the universe. What was special: Installations and spatial experiences made the topic a multimedia and interactive experience. Voices from different faith communities talked about their ideas of the afterlife and in a video conference, carers for the dying from twelve countries shared their experiences. An audio light narrative conveyed what happens during dying from a scientific and medical perspective. The exhibition provided insights into special traditions of dealing with the bodies of the deceased and an Islamic corpse washing. And it posed questions: How (un)equal are living and dying conditions worldwide? What responsibility do we have for the death of other people? And is the current extinction of species even threatening the self-extinction of our species?

The exhibition was accompanied by a free brochure with background information on the respective acts and scenes and cross-references to the publication.

Regular guided tours and workshops for adults and schoolchildren from Year 7 onwards looked at the exhibition with the question “How do we live with death? The scenically designed rooms were discovered and scrutinised together. The workshops were organised in cooperation with the Björn Schulz Foundation, which provides professional support for children with life-limiting illnesses and their families. Further training for teachers and multipliers was also part of the programme.


Events and the book on the exhibition

The programme of events focused on a lively examination of death across different art forms and generations. In the consultation hour, visitors were able to talk directly with a death counsellor, a pathologist, a policewoman or a funeral speaker, and in the film night with filmmakers and scientists. A concert by the Resident Music Collective on the Easter weekend provided comfort through music. There were stories about death for adults and picture book cinema for children. As the highlight of the event programme, the Mexican Festival of the Dead took place for the first time at the Humboldt Forum – with music, performances, a family programme and a colourfully decorated altar.

The accompanying book combines different perspectives on the topic in essays, interviews, photographs and personal experience reports. With contributions from and interviews with: Cristina Cattaneo, Stephen Cave, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Jens Dreier, Matthias Glaubrecht, Liv Nilsson Stutz, Julia Samuel, Helaine Selin & Robert M. Rakoff, Robin Wall Kimmerer and many others.



Death _matters

Discussion with the journalist and death counsellor Lydia Heller and the archaeologist Pablo Nina
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