Nowadays, Wilhelm and Alexander von Humboldt are celebrated as German cosmopolitans. They embody the accomplishments of public education, a new perspective on nature, and an unbiased look at the cultures outside of Europe. Their biographies, however, are marked by the contradictions of their time: the image of the equality of all people as conceived by the Enlightenment contrasted with the existence of colonialism and slavery. The new discovery of nature goes hand in hand with its mastery and destruction. International exchange and cooperation are unable to prevent nationalist exclusion.
This first major German exhibition on Wilhelm and Alexander von Humboldt focuses on the brothers in the context of the complex challenges, developments and opportunities of their time. It explores social and political areas of negotiation and organisation and examines the relation between travel and knowledge and the changing perspective on humankind and the environment under the influence of science and historical consciousness. Questions of the actuality and evaluation of the Humboldt brothers’ positions and actions for the present day arise from the interplay of the multifaceted themes surrounding their lives and undertakings.