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Museum in lockdown : Technician Ralf Beck keeps Haus der Geschichte running

Museum in lockdown : Technician Ralf Beck keeps Haus der Geschichte running

At first glance, the Haus der Geschichte museum in Bonn is deserted. In the basement, however, the ventilation system continues to hum. Technician Ralf Beck and his colleagues make sure that the museum machine keeps churning during lockdown. GA accompanied him.

The foyer is empty. There are no visitors pushing past the green US Army jeep to visit the exhibition. No one is sitting on the original chairs from the first German Bundestag. "There's something special about being in the museum at night when everything is lit up," says Ralf Beck, who works as a technician at the Haus der Geschichte. 

Unfortunately, loneliness also reigns during the day in lockdown. The temporary exhibition on Hits and Hymns has been waiting to open for weeks. Three floors down, the huge ventilation system is diligently humming away. Ralf Beck and his colleagues make sure it stays that way and that all the exhibits are preserved. 

"We can't just switch everything off and say “Still ruht der See” says the 54-year-old, referring to the German folksong which means ‘Silent rests the lake’. The level of humidity and the temperature in the museum must remain constant to preserve the historical objects. The technicians are currently working in two shifts. "One is here one week and one works from home," says Beck. When working from home, he deals with paperwork and coordinates appointments. 

And when Beck is at the Haus der Geschichte, he deals with faults. They can sometimes be spectacular. In the quiet of the first lockdown, a motorcyclist crashed into the main entrance, says Beck: "The museum was left open. I had to find a solution to lock the door." He alerted a maintenance company, who temporarily locked the entrance. But otherwise, according to Beck, there have been fewer breakages during lockdown. Even the skaters in the underground station did not crash into the doors as usual. 

To keep a large museum operational, the building's technology needs regular maintenance. "It doesn't matter if 1,000 visitors use the lift or one security guard. Everything has to be monitored," says Beck. Normally, Monday is the day when the technicians can repair everything (as museums in Germany are usually closed on Mondays). Now they have the whole week to do it.

Beck and his colleagues use the extra time for making long overdue upgrades. “We have replaced the entire lighting system.” But so far, the new LED lights have only illuminated the way for the staff. Carpenters, restorers and other craftsmen continue to work in the workshops.

The technicians have also converted the ventilation system to corona operation. Normally, 50 per cent of the air entering the room is filtered recirculated air and 50 per cent comes from outside. Since corona, the system ventilates using 100 per cent fresh air from outside and has new filters, Beck explains, “we've done everything possible for our visitors.” It is still not clear when they will come back though.

Beck knows his way around abandoned places. Before he started working at the Haus der Geschichte 23 years ago, he worked at the government bunker in the Ahr Valley. At that time, the shelter was still top secret. Important politicians were to shelter behind nuclear-safe doors in the event of a nuclear war between East and West. "Back then I kept everything up for the day that was not to come," says Beck. "Now I'm doing the same, but for the day that I hope will soon come."

Original text: Christine Ludewig

Translation: Caroline Kusch