Rob Freeman, Craven and the First World War Project Officer at Craven Museum & Gallery visited Munich and Simbach in Germany in November 2016 with a WIRP Travel Grant. This is Rob’s report from his visit.
The original purpose of this visit was to build links with heritage organisations and schools in Skipton’s twin town of Simbach-am-Inn, Germany, and to develop ideas for a project in 2018 that will bring together young people from both towns to mark 100 years since the end of the war. The project would form part of the museum’s application for additional funding which it will be making early next year to cover the second phase of its centenary programme from 2017 – 2019.
I started my trip with a visit to the WW2 sites of Dachau concentration camp and NS-Dokumentationzentum in Munich as I felt it was important to understand how the view of WW1 in Germany is shaped by their reflection of WW2 ahead of my meetings in Simbach to discuss a town twinning WW1 centenary project in 2018.
Upon my arrival in Simbach, I was warmly welcomed by representatives from the Twinning Association and local schools who were interested in my idea of a centenary project which would bring together young people from the two towns in 2018. I then met with the curators of a WW1 exhibition at the local museum, and whilst I was not able to visit the museum which was closed due to damage caused by recent flooding, I was able to see the exhibition material and also share information from our own exhibition. The language barrier was a challenge in this meeting, and even though there was a translator present, I feel that there was information lost in translation. Despite this, we talked about the possibility of working together on a joint exhibition to present what life was like in our two towns 100 year ago. On my last day, I met local historian Florian Kotanko who showed me the site of a former POW camp in Simbach’s neighbouring town of Branau, across the border in Austria. This visit was of particular interest to me because Skipton had it’s own POW camp during WW1.
As a result of my trip, I have gained knowledge of how Germany remembers WW1 and the differences between our two nations in how we view the war and mark its centenary. Through meeting history teachers from the local schools, I have a greater understanding of how WW1 is taught in German schools, which has helped to inform and change the focus of the proposed project in 2018.
I also have a greater understanding of what life was like on the German side for the men and women living our twin town 100 years ago and also life in a POW camp for prisoners on the other side. This has informed our own research into life in Skipton and the POW camp set up for German Officers and hope to share this with the wider public through a joint exhibition with the museum in Simbach.
Visiting the Dachau Concentration Camp and NS-Dokumentationzentum museum was particularly relevant to the next phase of the Craven and the First World War project, which, if successful with HLF funding, will focus on the legacy of war and its impact on shaping Europe in the 20th Century, including the horrors of the Nazi regime in WW2.
It is worth considering the services of a professional translator and including this is in your budget if you are going to be involved in a meeting where language is a barrier. Even though this was not generally a problem for me in a country where the majority of people I came into contact with spoke very good English, there was one meeting where the it would have been useful to have had a professional translator. Also, check museum opening times when planning your visit. I had planned to visit one museum on a Monday, not realising that many museums in Germany close on a Monday. Whilst I did manage to squeeze in a visit to this museum at the end of my trip, I did not have as much time to spend here as I would have liked.
Following my visit, I will be making contact with schools in Skipton and involve them in my plans for a project in 2018. I will also be re-establishing contact with the museum curator in Skipton’s other twin town in northern France, Erqinghem-Lys, about the town (which was on the front line during WW1) being the meeting place for our project. The only way that the project will be able to happen is with EU funding and so once all partners are on board, I hope to make an application to secure funding through Europe for Citizens and their ‘European Remembrance’ programme.
I will also report back to the Craven and the First World War Project steering group members about my trip and in particular discuss the idea of a joint exhibition with the museum in Simbach exploring WW1 in our twinned towns. I will look to include this either as part of the application for the next phase of HLF funding that the project is hoping to secure or part of the bid to Europe for Citizens.
“The trip has given me the confidence to develop my ideas for a transnational WW1 project further and continue to seek international connections in the future, in my current post and subsequent career.”
Rob Freeman, Craven and the First World War Project Officer, Craven Museum & Gallery
“Rob’s research visit to Germany, has, as he has noted, allowed him to develop our plans for an ambitious transnational WW1 project to conclude our centenary commemorations and leave a lasting cultural and educational legacy in ours, and our partners’ local areas. This trip was essential for gathering information first-hand and developing face to face partnerships that give our plans depth and relevance for all involved. The knowledge gained during the trip will now allow us to progress funding plans for the next phase of our WW1 project, so we are very grateful for the support provided by the WIRP to facilitate this opportunity.”
Rachel Terry, Museum & Collections Officer, Craven Museum & Gallery