Bröhan-Museum Kinder Committee

Must every museum be interesting for kids? No, but if a museum aims to diversify its visitor groups – a declared goal of many museums – a good place to start is engaging with children. After all, the following urbanistic insight can also be applied to the museum realm:

“Children are a kind of indicator species, if we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for everyone.”
Enrique Peñalosa, Former Mayor of Bogota, Colombia*

How do you make a museum accessible to kids? Ideally, by working with them: having conversations, observing them, developing ideas with them, building, testing, and improving prototypes with their help. This ‘Human Centred Approach’ has been an established technique in architecture and product design for a long time. In the German museum scene, however, it is taking longer to catch on.

While many museums offer guided tours and workshops for kids, they miss out on the chance to learn from their visitors. The experiences of the tour guides or workshop leads do not usually in turn influence curation and museum design. No wonder – offering a (specially funded) program is easier than questioning one’s own work.

The Bröhan-Museum, Berlin’s museum for art nouveau, art deco and functionalism, on the other hand, was brave enough to ask: “How do children experience our museum, and what kind of museum do they dream of?”. In the summer of 2019, curator of outreach Nils Martin Müller started a Kinder Committee with the slogan “meddling strictly allowed”, which he asked me to lead.

I had the pleasure of working with twelve fantastic children from grades 5 and 6 and exploring the museum from their perspective, developing prototypes for a child accessible museum together. With the enthusiastic help of the teachers, the museum’s team and the cultural agents Berlin, the Kinder Committee met every Wednesday afternoon for a whole academic year.

A museum visit from the perspective of a child

Every change starts with stocktaking. First, the children explored the museum’s permanent exhibition as freely and peacefully as the museum rules allowed – no touching / no running / no loud noises. We asked them to photograph anything they saw that they would “talk about at home”.

So what did the children take pictures of? Of the 110 photos, there were many shots (25%) of large and spectacular pieces of furniture, such as Hector Guimard’s Water Lily Buffet, and extravagant glass containers (16%) in an illuminated display case that were “twinkling so prettily”, as one child put it.

What surprised us was the large proportion of “pictures of pictures” (16%). Among the paintings, graphics, posters, tapestries and reproduced photos, figurative motifs were particularly popular. The more text was on the pictures, the less interesting the children seemed to find them; the exhibition texts were ignored completely. Are two dimensional pictures a more familiar medium? Are the children searching for a narrative? Either way, pictures seem to be a medium that speaks to children.

The children also photographed many things that experienced museum-goers might not even notice: the view out of the window or into the donation box. A useful hint: new visitors notice the periphery of the museum. Could we use it in a different way? Inspired by this observation, the children hid a miniature world in the museum: Welcome to Bröhania.

The mostly obstructed view into a storage room was especially intriguing. Perhaps sometimes exhibits could be hidden – discovering them for yourself is always more fun!

The items in the museum shop – although in display cases in the Bröhan-Museum and therefore not touchable – were documented just as eagerly as the exhibits. This supports my experience that museum shops can be a stimulating introduction to museums and their content. The Kinder Committee would probably have a lot of good product ideas for the museum shop.

On their photo safari, the children quickly identified the only interactive exhibit in the permanent exhibition – the big mirror at the end of the long corridor. The mirror unites two possible attractions during a museum visit: the possibility of social interaction (messing around together) and magically drawing you into the museum world. The potential for mirrors in the Bröhan-Museum has definitely not been exhausted yet.

The interesting thing was not just what the children found worthy of documenting, but also what they did not: Chairs? We have those at home, why are they in a museum? A good question – that ultimately asks about the concept of the collection and might need to be answered more clearly for many visitors.

Some display locations, like the highest display shelves or table cabinets, are wholly unreachable for children. Could aids be provided for this? A periscope or something similar would surely be fun.

Categorising the findings

We were very curious about how the kids would categorise their own pictures. While the curators sorted the exhibits by style (e.g. art nouveau) or designer (e.g. William Morris), the children divided them primarily into typologies (e.g. cabinet or shelf). In doing so, we found that the vocabulary for types of furniture was very limited – even the word ‘furniture’ was, in part, missing. Wouldn’t it be exciting to “take home” a few unusual words like ‘chiffonniere’ or ‘Sussex chair’? When you consider the enthusiasm with which kids learn difficult dinosaur names, the idea does not seem too far-fetched.

The second most common way of sorting pictures was by function (e.g. home life or tool). Functionality is a central concept in design, but the function of individual exhibits in the Bröhan-Museum is often hard to determine (not only) for kids. For example, a Morris bench was often called a shelf. Other functions might be antiquated – who still needs a ladies’ desk these days? So, an object’s function can also have a direct connection to its historical context. Perhaps there could be more clues about this in the exhibition – and in that context answer the question about the chair?

The subject matter of all pictorial artefacts was particularly dominant, regardless of material. The depiction of a swan on fabric was put in the category “people and animals”, and not “tapestries”. The fact that children really look at pictures and don’t just put them in a box according to style is a great chance! Could adult museum-goers learn from them to look at things directly, and not just compare them with prior knowledge? Mixed age “slow looking sessions” would surely be enriching for the adults.

On a side note, the children also seemed to enjoy forming meta categories like “scandalously pompous”. I would like to ask them to rename the rooms. I wonder what they would come up with for the collection “the social question”?

Children’s visions of the museum

Parallel to the exploration of the museum, the kids worked on their own shoe box museums. Every child chose their own theme and designed a museum according to their wishes. Together, it looks like the children have already made a checklist for an ‘inviting’ museum:

  • A place where you can meet up
  • A place where you play together
  • A place where you produce something
  • A place where you can try things
  • A place where you can buy (take home?) things
  • A place where you learn something about yourself

We reframed the children’s wishes as our challenges, and started by exploring the idea of the museum as a meeting place: “If the museum was a place where you met up and maybe even stayed overnight – what would happen there?” The children imagined what it would be like to sleep over in  the museum and used glow-in-the-dark pens to illustrate the nightly activities. Their pictures are full of ideas and suggestions.

One drawing shows a doormat that reads “Welcome”. There’s no better way of saying it: new (and maybe shy) visitors want to feel welcome in the museum!

In another picture, Mr Bröhan himself is sitting in an armchair, greeting his guests. The fact that the man who lent his name to museum is not present within it, aside from a plaque at the entrance, bothers the kids. Using this mystical figure to create a welcoming atmosphere is a good idea.

In the above-mentioned picture, Mr Bröhan explains to his visitors that there are not only old (in the sense of “shabby”?) things, but also lots of wonderful new things in the museum. An interesting hint that some visitors might be put off by the age of the exhibits. The children, who are not likely to read the texts accompanying the exhibits voluntarily, generally have no concept of how old they actually are.

Most of the kids completely furnished the museum in their pictures – curtains, houseplants, paintings, ornaments, rugs, and pets. This makes sense – furniture usually has something to do with home life. The current exhibition lacks this angle, even though home life is something which everybody is familiar with and which could therefore be an accessible entry point for new visitors.

Some children were inspired by the Bröhan-Museum’s distinctive atmosphere to create fantastical parallel universes in its nocturnal rooms. Humans and ghosts living side-by-side and writing mysterious messages on the walls, skulls and crowns scattered around, doors leading to other worlds and magical books drawing you in. Children often have a sense of romanticism – think of Harry Potter – and the Bröhan-Museum’s magical aura is bursting with unused potential.

The next step was for the committee to consider how and what to play in the museum. But alas, the coronavirus stopped the Kinder Committee in its tracks. It would be wonderful to pick up where we left off next school year – there is so much left to do! Maybe together we can find a way to experience the museum, even with social distancing. In any case, we will be able to learn a lot from each other and have just as much fun!

The Kinder Committee is a collaboration between the Bröhan Museum and Nehring Primary School within the scope of the federal program “Cultural agents for creative schools Berlin” Berlin”. It was led by Rose Epple in the academic year 2019/2020.
Kinder committee: Adem, Alma, Belma, Charlotte, Jana, Krasimira, Luan, Mannat, Mehmet, Peer, Sevim, Sophie, Teba
Bröhan Museum: Nils Martin Müller / Curator of Outreach, Sylvia Hinz / Research Assistant
Nehring Primary School: Sabine Brehm-Hamm / Educator, Verena Nietruch / Educator, Katharina Stahlhoven / Cultural Agent
photos: Kinder Committee and Rose Epple
* The quote was taken from this TED Talk by Mara Mintzer: How kids can help design cities

Welcome to Bröhania

Every day lots of visitors come to the Bröhan-Museum in Berlin. Most visitors though only see beautiful old furniture and things. Good that the attentive children of the ‘Kinder Comitee’ took a closer look and discovered a whole secret world in the museum: Bröhania. The kids took time to listen to the Bröhanians and recorded their stories in a little booklet. As you can see, the inhabitants are quite a colourful bunch. Bröhania is a vast country with many different places and everybody can live the way they like. When they all come together, they always have a party. Next time you come to the museum, do not forget to look out for Bröhania!

“Welcome to Bröhania” characters and stories: Kinderbeirat
Concept, workshops, photos, layout: Rose Epple
The Kinderbeirat (transl.: Kinder Committee) is a cooperation between the Bröhan-Museum and Nehring Primary School as part of the Berlin program Kulturagenten for creative schools. During the school year 2019/2020 the committee was led by Rose Epple.
Kinderbeirat: Adem, Alma, Belma, Charlotte, Jana, Krasimira, Luan, Mannat, Mehmet, Peer, Sevim, Sophie, Teba
Bröhan-Museum: Nils Martin Müller / curator of outreach, Sylvia Hinz / scientific assistant
Nehring Primary School: Sabine Brehm-Hamm / teacher, Verena Nietruch / educator, Katharina Stahlhoven / cultural agent


Design Skills for All!

Design skills for all! Learning to take things into your own hands is useful – especially so in Berlin, where the Bauhaus Agents asked me to help a class of 10th grade students facilitate wayfinding in their school. Continue reading “Design Skills for All!”

Erotic Things

What makes things erotic? An exhibition in the Museum of Things, Berlin, presents a wide range of objects with an erotic dimension – some intentionally, others due to our vivid imagination.  Continue reading “Erotic Things”

Private Photography

The exhibition FOTO | ALBUM in the Werkbundarchiv – Museum der Dinge, Berlin shows private and anonymous photography from the vast collection of the museum. Do not miss it – it is great fun and runs till February 26th, 2018. Poster and exhibition graphics by Rose Apple.  Continue reading “Private Photography”

Cabinet of the Unknown

The Werkbundarchiv – Museum of Things and guest curator Ece Pazarbaşı invited its neighbours to select “unknown” objects in their vast collection and collectively assemble this exhibition of 65 enigmatic things. They serve as talking points to participants and visitors alike, with the aim to collectively generate a pool of knowledge that goes beyond the conventional museum wisdom. Come and share your knowledge as well until September 25, 2017. Continue reading “Cabinet of the Unknown”

Would You Like It Modern?

The exhibition gern modern? Living concepts for Berlin after 1945 at the Museum der Dinge charted ideas and initiatives of the German Werkbund in the aftermath of WWII.

Continue reading “Would You Like It Modern?”

Graphic Design in the GDR

Back from holiday, I was excited to find the new Eye Magazine in my post box – with my review of the exhibition “Masse und Klasse: Graphic Design in the GDR” on page 86. If you are in Berlin and have not seen the exhibition, you still have until August 29, 2016 to visit the Werkbundarchiv – Museum of Things and catch a glimpse of the everyday visual culture of East Germany. The finissage will take place on Saturday 27 with an expert talk about GDR records. See you there?


They are active in Lisbon, Madrid, Toulouse, Turin, Berlin and Brussels: Citizens across Europe are currently taking the initiative to re-appropriate urban space. We call them “We-Traders” in the sense that they redefine the relation between value, profit and public good and are able to motivate fellow citizens to follow suit. The We-Traders platform initiated by the Goethe-Institut, and developed with brilliant Vienna based curator/author Angelika Fitz and myself, connects initiatives by artists, designers, activists and many other citizens from six distinct European contexts. 

Collective Exhibition Making

The We-Traders exhibition is, similar to the projects it is showing and connecting, an experiment in co-creating a social situation. The collaborative process that shaped We-Traders took place in Berlin, Brussels, Lisbon, Madrid, Munich, Rome, Toulouse and Turin over a period of two years. Next to us, as artistic directors and the project lead in Brussels, six local Goethe-Instituts, seven co-curators and 30 We-Trader projects were involved. As milestones of this collective effort we count the Co-Curators Lab in Rome July 2013 and four We-Traders Fora in Autumn 2013. During the We-Traders tour that started January 2014 in Madrid and ended March 2015 in Brussels, the exhibition went on being not only a space of presentation, but a space to meet and co-produce with more than 30,000 visitors. The Tool Story presents our collection of tools we used, adapted and invented in the process and is published in full in the We-Traders E-Book.

The Working Exhibition – A Tool Story in 11 Images: Angelika Fitz, Rose Epple
We-Traders Platform:
Project direction Goethe-Institut Brussels: Susanne Höhn
Project coordination: Julia Förster
Co-Production: Goethe-Institute Lisbon, Madrid, Toulouse, Turin, Brussels
Concept und artistic direction: Angelika Fitz, Rose Epple
Co-Curators: Julia Albani (Lisabon), Javier Duero (Madrid), Stéphane Gruet (Toulouse), Lisa Parola & Luisa Perlo (Turin), Charlotte Bonduel & Julia Förster (Brussels)
Exhibition Design: Studio Alex Valder
Exhibition Graphics: Carsten Giese
Visual Identity: Rose Epple
Participating initiatives: A Linha (Lissabon), AERA Habitat (Toulouse), Agulha Num Palheiro (Lissabon), Allmende-Kontor (Berlin), betahaus/Open Design City (Berlin), BIP/ZIP (Lisbon), Bois & Cie (Toulouse), Buena Vista Social Housing (Turin), Campo de Cebada (Madrid), Casa del Quartiere (Turin), Carrefour Culturel Arnaud Bernard (Toulouse), Cozinha Popular da Mouraria (Lissabon), Elii/Crisis Cabinet of Political Fictions (Madrid), Il Piccolo Cinema (Turin), Initiative Möckernkiez (Berlin), Le potager de Camille (Toulouse), O Espelho (Lissabon), Miraorti (Turin), Mix’Art Myrys (Toulouse), RÜTLI-WEAR (Berlin), Todo por la praxis (Madrid), Toolbox Coworking/FabLab (Turin), [VIC] Citizen Initiatives Incubator (Madrid), Teamlabs/Walkinn Coop (Madrid)
Diagnoses by: Sonja Beeck, Paul Blanquart, Rolf Novy-Huy, Leonie Baumann, Santiago Eraso Beloki, Claus Leggewie, Jorge da Silva Macaísta Malheiros, Carlo Salone, Florian Schmidt, Marco Revelli
The We-Traders exhibition travelled to:
BOZAR, Brussels 2015
CMAV – Centre Méridional de l’Architecture et de la Ville, Toulouse 2014
LX Factory, Lisbon 2014
Toolbox, Turin 2014
Kunstraum Kreuzberg Bethanien, Berlin 2014
Matadero, Madrid 2014

Modell Bauhaus

The exhibition shows the development and influence of the legendary school on it’s 90th anniversary. With about 1.000 exhibits, it is the biggest show on the Bauhaus so far.

Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, 22.7.– 4.10.09
Direction: Omar Akbar, Annemarie Jaeggi, Philipp Oswalt, Hellmut Seemann
Curators: Ulrike Bestgen, Werner Möller, Lutz Schöbe, Michael Siebenbrodt, Wolfgang Thöner, Klaus Weber
Architecture and exhibition graphics, media architecture, printed matter, book design: chezweitz & roseapple
Photos: Volker Kreidler

Publication on the exhibition in Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin: The book re-examines and re-evalutes the art school´s history and influence.

Hatje Cantz, 2009, 376 pages, 302 illustrations, 236 in colour, hardcover with book jacket (English and German editions)
Editors: Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin, Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau, Klassik Stiftung Weimar
Graphic Concept, layout, typesetting: chezweitz & roseapple

Related Post: Navigating Bauhaus