Monday

23rd Sep 2019

Brussels history museum takes European angle

  • The House of European History focuses on common themes in the continent's history (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

The new museum in the European quarter in Brussels tells the story of common themes in the history of the continent, purged by catastrophic wars and edging towards unity.

The House of European History opened its doors over the weekend and awaits visitors with a 24-language tablet guide and interactive installations in the refurbished Eastman Building, in a park behind the European Parliament.

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  • The interactive exhibitions details the destruction of totalitarian regimes (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

The aim is to "find commonality" in the European memory, without dismissing the different national narratives of events.

The museum guides the visitor from 19th century revolutions and national movements through industrialisation, and global dominance, to two catastrophic world wars, through the decades of Cold War, and the ever-more-present European integration project.

The new museum, a project of the European Parliament, cost €55.4 million, and was criticised heavily as being what one British eurosceptic MEP called a "vanity project".

It took 10 years to complete, suffering several delays - it was supposed to open in 2014.

Some feared the museum would try to impose a common narrative over sometimes conflicting European national histories.

EU parliament president Antonio Tajani said last week that the museum is supposed to encourage "debate for a better future".

"Here we don't have a line to take. There are many different messages, our history and our heritage is here, our problems and disasters too," he said.

The exhibition includes Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas's presentation of the EU acquis communautaire, the entire legal text of the bloc, printed on 80,000 pages.

It also has memorabilia of the Brexit campaign, with badges from the successful "Leave" and failed "Remain" teams from last June's referendum.

It touches upon migration, the failed constitutional convention, and the euro crisis, with the audio guide reminding visitors that the "crises are tests of European solidarity".

A Maltese and Greek teacher were happy with the exhibition.

"I would like to take the children here, it is perfect for kids. [But] it was depressing going through the world wars' sections," another visitor, Geraldine, told EUobserver.

"You can see many things here that you can connect with. I just wonder how the exhibition will change after Brexit," Martin from Finland said.

"I didn't see enough to understand today's Europe. It would be helpful to understand why today's Europe is so complicated," said Johannes from Germany, adding there could be better explanation on how much sovereignty EU member states had actually given up.

The EU's mechanism is displayed in a less obvious corner of the exhibition, highlighting the legislative process.

He also missed a better explanation of why there is "tension between extremism and democracy" in today's Europe.

None of the visitors EUobserver talked to thought a common European theme, or EU propaganda had been imposed on them.

The exhibition is free and the collection contains 1,500 objects from 300 museums across Europe and other continents.

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