Pre-Columbian works from the Hartmann Collection

Günther Hartmann (1924-2012) - Ethnologist and Berlin scientist in American studies

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It seems as if ethnology was part of his DNA. As a child, he convinced his parents to invite a “real Indian”, who studied music in Paris and performed as a medicine man at the Karl May Festival, to come to his home. At the age of twelve or thirteen he reads ethnological works by the Americanist Theodor Koch-Grünberg[1], and buys Bronislaw Malinowski's[2] (1884-1942) main work “Argonauts of the Western Pacific” (1922). He knows full well that he "did not fully understand" the work by the Polish Social anthropologist and founder of “participating field research” but wanted to have it "for later".[3]

Then comes the war. Initially, he was not called-up and instead was able to study together with a small group of students. Initially he was at the Leipzig Institute under Fritz Krause with a focus on North America, especially the Pueblo area. The focus lay, as was later the case, on the material culture of indigenous peoples. “There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that I had chosen the only right and appropriate course of study. At no time did I feel unsure” [4].

Military service, the death of his seriously ill father, the management of his father's company and its technical school in the eastern sector of Germany, arrest by the Soviets in 1950, expropriation, departure to West Berlin, all made it difficult to continue studying. In 1952 he began studying ethnology at the Free University of Berlin, where, simultaneously, he was in charge of his father's college, which had now been rebuilt in West Berlin.

During these years he met the ethnologist and Africanist Kurt Krieger[5] (1920-2007) who helped him to do a traineeship at the Ethnological Museum Berlin-Dahlem in 1959 after completing his doctorate; a few years later he finally moved to the museum, where he set up the section for South America. In the years following, from 1985 to 1989, after the resignation of the chair, Horst Hartmann, he was in charge of the South and North America departments.

At that time Latin America research in Berlin concentrated mainly on the advanced cultures of Central America and Peru, Hartmann now increasingly turned his attention to the material cultures of the indigenous peoples of Iberian America. In addition, he had the opportunity to impart this research as a lecturer at the Free University.

Hartmann sees himself as a field researcher. His research trips take him several times and, where and whenever possible, over several months to ethnic groups such as the Xinguanos in Brazil and the Mapuche in Chile. He is given deep insights into everyday life and culture. They keep returning to the Kuna, who mainly live on atolls off the coast of Panama, and who "adopt" him and his family thanks to their little son, and are even allowed to visit other islands, which would otherwise have been impossible at the time.

Hartmann curates more than 70 exhibitions in Dahlem alone, and ensures that the concept of "mass presentation" is replaced in favour of thematic exhibitions, also outside the museum's own walls, such as in Koblenz and Recklinghausen, where "there was a corresponding catalogue for the first time in 1964". In 1964 that was not so usual, because the small amount of available money was used for other purposes.

To get objects from the magazines of public museums, to make them accessible to the public and thus to the entitled taxpayer, Hartmann also saw an essential mandate for his work and therefore was one of the few who kept ahead of his time in Germany.

He retired in 1989. He and his wife spent a lot of time traveling around the world, including areas he had never been to during his professional years. Even after his retirement, they continued to hold exhibitions together, with collections that “we had put together over the past fifteen to twenty years”.


[1] Theodor Koch-Grünberg (1872 - 1924):

[2] Bronisław Malinowski (1884–1942):

[3] Source: Source: Interview G. Hartmann (2011), by Prof. Dr. Dieter Haller, Ruhr Universität Bochum RUB.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Kurt Krieger:


Photo G. Hartmann:

Peru, Moche, pre-Columbian collection Günther Hartmann, Berlin

Peru, Moche

Galerie Inti-Peru, Munich (1982)
Günther & Ursula Hartmann, Berlin

Costa Rica / Panama, pre-Columbian Collection Günther Hartmann, Berlin

Costa Rica / Panama

Günther & Ursula Hartmann, Berlin

Peru, Moche, pre-Columbian collection Günther Hartmann, Berlin

Peru, Moche

Ulrich Hoffmann, Stuttgart
Günther & Ursula Hartmann, Berlin