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Double page from the accession register of the Museum für Meereskunde showing bibliographical details, provenance data and purchase prices.

Provenance Research

The Stiftung Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin searches its holdings for objects that are in any way tied to Nazi looted property, GDR injustice or colonial contexts.

What is provenance research?

Provenance (from the Latin provenire = to come forth, originate) generally refers to the origin of a thing or person.

Provenance research investigates the origin and history of works of art and other objects in archives, libraries and museums. It attempts to establish the path of the objects from their production to their current location.

Particular attention is paid to properties that were unjustly taken from their former owners. The main focus is on property that was stolen from the victims of National Socialism or which had to be sold by those victims under duress. Increasingly, injustices in connection with the GDR or colonialism are also being researched.

Provenance Research at the Deutsches Technikmuseum

Wooden jewelry box from the African Direct Telegraph Company with 12 different sized pieces of telegraph cable.
African Direct Telegraph Company jewelry box with sections of telegraph cables
SDTB

The Deutsches Technikmuseum collects technical cultural goods of all kinds. These include not only large objects such as locomotives, airplanes and ships, but also numerous everyday objects such as radios, typewriters, bicycles and cameras.

In 2017, the museum began searching its collections for objects that had been seized from their mostly Jewish owners during the National Socialist era. The collection of historical vehicles was the first to be examined.

The foundations for further research were worked out from 2019 to 2020 as part of a pilot project funded by the German Lost Art Foundation.

Following on from that work, a further project was launched in May 2020. Its aim is to sort through all acquisitions dating from the founding of the museum in 1982 until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 in order to find objects confiscated under National Socialism. This new project is expected to be completed in August 2025 and is again funded by the German Lost Art Foundation.

The Deutsches Technikmuseum has of now engaged two permanent employees for provenance research. In the coming years, the team will systematically examine the museum's collection for objects that originate from an historical context of injustice.

Nazi-looted goods

Under National Socialism, property ranging from works of art to automobiles to typewriters was expropriated from persecuted groups. Such Nazi-looted goods can indeed be found in the Deutsches Technikmuseum's collection.

GDR injustices

The GDR sold works of art, machines and everyday objects to the West, including to the Deutsches Technikmuseum. Some of these items had previously been privately owned and had only been handed over to the state under duress.

Colonial contexts

Objects from former colonies that may have been forcibly removed are also found in the collection, as are some local technologies that were in use there.

Find out more

We make our research findings public in many ways, including participation in the International Day of Provenance Research, in online exhibitions as well as in articles and blog posts.

The Provenance Research staff at the Deutsches Technikmuseum

Shared email address: provenienz@technikmuseum.berlin