State Minister for Culture Claudia Roth and the Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock cleared the way for restitution of Benin Bronzes during a ceremony at the Federal Foreign Office. Based on a Memorandum of Understanding, return agreements can be concluded in future between german museums and the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM).
This means that around 1.100 precious Benin Bronzes, which can be found in around 20 German museums, will gradually find their way back to their homeland. Back to the roots in the former Kingdom of Benin, which today belongs to Nigeria. The bronzes were looted from the palace of the Kingdom of Benin by British colonial troops in 1897 during a so-called punitive expedition and found their way to Germany, especially via the port of Hamburg as an important gateway, and their distribution throughout continental Europe. If towns, villages as well as the collective memory of entire ethnic groups were wiped out in the "exotic faraway" places, the new European ethnological museums were filled in competition to bring the "wild and exotic" to the population in the museums at home.
Experts estimate that between 80 and 90 % of Africa's cultural heritage is stored in European museums. The most extensive Benin Bronze collections in Germany are held by the Linden Museum in Stuttgart, the Museum am Rothenbaum in Hamburg, the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum in Cologne, the Völkerkundemuseum Dresden/Leipzig and the Ethnological Museum Berlin. Last year, representatives of the Federal Government, Nigeria and these five museums announced the reassignment of ownership rights. In this way, the cultural debate provides a commitment of national significance.
The federal government stands by the historical atrocities of colonialism and acknowledges their atrocities. Pascal Decker, expert on art law: „This historical agreement ensures that colonial past is dealt with and a new foundation of cultural cooperation can begin“. The current cultural-political debate brings a breath of fresh air into colonial-dusted ways of thinking. The restitution of colonial looted art is a start. Cultural cooperation is now to be practised at eye level. The consensus that prevailed at the time, namely that the works were better off in Europe because here they were protected from environmental influences, warfare and decay, will thus finally be a thing of the past.
State Minister for Culture Roth also emphasises that „the basis of any cooperation [...] is culture. It lets us work on the past in order to make a common future possible“. It is therefore all the more gratifying that, in addition to the declaration, cooperations for the training of young museums and even support for the construction of a new museum in Benin City have been agreed upon.