In 2022, the Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication is now celebrating 150 years of its collections. To mark this special year, we are taking you on a journey through the major collection areas from the late nineteenth century to today.
The exhibits on this tour present objects characteristic of a signature collection area in a particular era as well as special exhibits with a remarkable history. Here too, the crucial factor in selecting these objects was also that they had entered the collection in the relevant era.
Founding Document of the Imperial Postal Museum (24.08.1872) by Author: Heinrich von StephanMuseum for Communication Berlin, Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication
1872-1918 Imperial Germany: “All eras and peoples”
On 24 August 1872, Germany’s Postmaster General Heinrich von Stephan issued the order to establish the Imperial Postal Museum (Reichspostmuseum) in Berlin. Over the following decades, he constantly drove forward the development of the world’s first postal museum.
His aim was to establish a collection dedicated to transport and communication covering “all eras and peoples”. Since realising this vision overstrained the museum’s abilities and capacities, from the 1890s the focus increasingly shifted to the German-speaking areas. In 1898, the Imperial Postal Museum moved into the prestigious new building which today houses the Museum of Communication Berlin.
Mauritius tableau (Erwerb: nach 1904)Museum for Communication Berlin, Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication
The rare Mauritius stamps are numbered among the treasures from the museum’s early years. After prolonged negotiations, the museum managed to acquire the Red Mauritius in 1901, and the Blue Mauritius three years later. The stamps were presented in this tableau behind bulletproof glass.
The tableau was moved into safe storage during the Second World War, but then all trace of it was lost. It only reappeared in the USA in 1976. Today, the Mauritius tableau is one of the highlights in the Museum of Communication Berlin’s treasure chamber.
Bell telephone (Erwerb: 1889) by Inventor: Alexander Graham Bell (1847 - 1922)Museum for Communication Berlin, Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication
Bell telephone designed by Alexander Graham Bell
Heinrich von Stephan had a keen sense for the innovations of his day. On 24 October 1877, shortly after the presentation of Bell’s telephone as a new form of communication in the USA, he obtained two telephones as examples. Two days later, he used these two devices to make the first telephone call in Germany.
Message drum from Cameroon (Erwerb: 1897)Museum for Communication Berlin, Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication
Message drum from Cameroon
This slit drum can transmit news over long distances. In the Imperial Postal Museum display, the drum was contrasted with the communication technologies in Germany at that time. As yet, the drum’s provenance is unclear. It may have been acquired in the colonial context of Imperial Germany.
1918-1933 Weimar Republic: Stagnation & modernisation
The Imperial Postal Museum also suffered under the rampant inflation during the first years of Germany’s Weimar Republic. To make matters worse, since it was classed as a sub-department of the Deutsche Reichspost, it had a relatively small budget.
In this difficult financial situation, the museum could hardly acquire new objects. The mid-1920s also saw a surge in modernisation, with radio technologies opening up a completely new collection area.
Radio receiver (Erwerb: 1928) by Producer: TeKaDe Süddeutsche Telefon-Apparate-, Kabel- und Drahtwerke AG (1912 - 1982)Museum for Communication Berlin, Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication
In the wake of regular radio broadcasts starting in Germany in 1923, numerous companies began marketing radio receivers. Instead of loudspeakers, these early models came with headphones for the listeners. Radio facilitated an entirely new way of communicating cultural and political content.
US mailbox designed by David C. Owen (Erwerb: 10.02.1928) by Producer: Shunk Manufacturing Company, USAMuseum for Communication Berlin, Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication
US mailbox designed by David C. Owen
To complete its postal collection, the Imperial Postal Museum’s accession register lists the acquisition of this Owen-style mailbox from America on 10 February 1928. A lively exchange of letters and the accession of various objects testify to the museum’s wide-ranging contacts in the USA at that time.
1933-1945 The Nazi regime: Centralisation & destruction
From the mid-1930s, the Imperial Postal Museum profited from the Nazi regime’s measures to drive forwards its policy of centralisation. Rather than key artefacts in postal history being shown in existing regional museums, they were sent exclusively to Berlin. Organisationally, the regional museums now fell under the Imperial Postal Museum.
In 1938, the Berlin museum also opened a new section dedicated to television. This attraction, though, was short lived since the museum had to close with the start of the war in September 1939. Despite numerous objects placed in safe storage, large parts of the collection still kept in the museum were destroyed in the bombing of Berlin.
TV camera for the 1936 Olympic Games (Erwerb: 1938) by Producer: Fernseh AG (1930 - 1945)Museum for Communication Berlin, Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication
TV camera for the 1936 Olympic Games
The 1936 Olympic Games were the first to be broadcast on television. This required the most modern technologies – including a TV camera invented by Philo Farnsworth which could transmit outside shots in daylight. In 1938, the Imperial Postal Museum acquired a Farnsworth camera used at the Olympic Games, the only original to have survived from that time.
Model of the Kraftpost bus Magirus M 45 (Erwerb: 1937) by Producer: Klöckner-Humboldt-Deutz AGMuseum for Communication Berlin, Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication
Model of the Kraftpost bus Magirus M 45
The Deutsche Reichspost’s Kraftpost service transported both passengers and mail. The Magirus M 45 was the standard bus on these routes. In 1937, the museum acquired this 1:10 scale model from the Humboldt-Deutz AG’s Magirus works in Ulm.
Altheim Post House Sign (Erwerb: 09.01.1942)Museum for Communication Berlin, Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication
Altheim Post House Sign
The Altheim post house sign dates from 1754. According to the Imperial Postal Museum’s accession register, it was acquired for 200 Reichsmarks and entered the collection in 1942. Provenance research has shown the sign’s legal owner was Olga Jean, who came from a Jewish family. The Nazi authorities expropriated the sign, originally valued at 3000 Reichsmarks.
Olga Jean had offered to sell the sign to the museum, but the sale was never concluded since she and her family were deported and murdered in Auschwitz. The sign was seized and compensation of 200 Reichsmarks paid to the previous German owner. At present, moves are underway to restitute the sign to relations of Olga Jean’s family now living in America.
1945-1990 Cold War: Reconstruction & the division of Germany
The history of the museum also reflects the post-war years of a divided Germany. In 1958, the West German Federal Postal Museum was inaugurated in Frankfurt am Main. That same year, after extensive reconstruction work, Berlin’s former Imperial Postal Museum building opened as the East German Postal Museum.
While the East German Postal Museum pursued the primary aim of narrating a positive account of the socialist development of the GDR’s postal services, the Frankfurt museum long remained rooted in the past. It was not until the 1970s that it increasingly began to acquire objects related to modern technologies.
East German Postal Museum
Interkosmos hand-stamp postmark (Erwerb: 1979)Museum for Communication Berlin, Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication
Interkosmos hand-stamp postmark
This hand-stamp postmark may look very nondescript, yet it has a remarkable story to tell. In 1978, cosmonaut Sigmund Jähn took this postmark along with 20 letters into space. Jähn’s spaceflight was an enormous boost to East Germany’s standing – the first German in space came from the GDR.
Stamping the letters in zero gravity was broadcast live in television. The Interkosmos hand-stamp postmark is an outstanding exhibit in Germany’s largest collection of over 60,000 postmark stamps.
East German parcel locker station (Erwerb: 1987)Museum for Communication Berlin, Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication
East German parcel locker station
To cut the time-intensive delivery of individual parcels, the East German postal system provided central locker stations. Recipients received a letter with a key to a parcel locker, a method employed for a total of 3.3 million people in 29 towns and cities.
West German Federal Postal Museum Frankfurt am Main
Deutsche Bundespost postal uniforms (Erwerb: 1988) by Neckermann Versandt KG (1950-2012), Frankfurt a.M.Museum for Communication Berlin, Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication
Deutsche Bundespost postal uniforms
The collection of the West German Federal Postal Museum regularly included postal uniforms withdrawn from service. Frequently, such uniforms were designed in simple, official styles and colours. In contrast, this uniform from 1980 seems deliberately casual.
VW 145 van (Fridolin) (Erwerb: 1980) by Producer: Volkswagenwerk AG (1960 - 1985); Westfalia-Werke Franz Knöbel & Söhne KG (1942 - 1999)Museum for Communication Berlin, Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication
VW 145 van (Fridolin)
In the 1980s, the vehicle section in the West German Federal Postal Museum grew substantially. In the 1960s, the German postal services commissioned Volkswagen to develop a small delivery van. VW produced over 6000 of these vans, later affectionately nicknamed “Fridolin”. Estimates put the number of them today at around 200.
1990-2022 Reunification: the MSPT foundation & a paradigm shift
German reunification altered the structure of many towns and cities across the country – and also changed the organisation of the postal museums. As part of a national programme of postal reform in 1995, the various postal museums and collections were brought together under the umbrella of the newly founded Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication with current museum locations in Berlin, Frankfurt and Nuremberg.
Today, the holdings are kept in storage facilities in Berlin-Tempelhof, Heusenstamm (near Frankfurt am Main), and Bonn. The Berlin collection is primarily dedicated to objects in cultural history, while the Heusenstamm holdings largely relate to the history of technology. The Philatelic Archive is located in Bonn.
From 2000, a paradigm shift in the content of the collections saw a growing emphasis on including objects illustrating aspects of cultural history. Renaming the postal museums as Museums of Communication also reflected this expanded focus to include the general history of media and communication.
Bluetooth telephoto holder "Selfie Stick" for taking selfies with your smartphone (Erwerb: 2015) by Distribution: RCP Technik GmbH & Co. KG Manufacturer: Rolley GmbH (*1920)Museum for Communication Berlin, Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication
The selfie stick became an integral part of smartphone culture in the 2010s. Selfie stick photos, which can be taken beyond the range of the human arm, are often posted on social media. The flood of such images led to the selfie stick becoming dubbed a “narcissus stick”, a synonym for a self-centred personality.
Bundle of Second World War field post letters (Erwerb: 2009) by Alexander KurzejaMuseum for Communication Berlin, Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication
Bundle of Second World War field post letters
Even in the Imperial Postal Museum’s founding charter, Heinrich von Stephan included the task of setting up a field post collection. While early field post letters were collected without content to document dispatch and delivery, the Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication (MSPT) also places an emphasis on the content of letters.
The bundle of letters here from the Second World War was acquired in 2009. With around 150,000 field post letters, the MSPT has the most extensive collection in this area in Germany.
“Vaccination” postcard (Erwerb: 2021) by Designer: Manfred Stadlmann Printer: OvernightPrints GmbH, DresdenMuseum for Communication Berlin, Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication
In crisis situations such as the corona pandemic, communication is a decisive factor. In addition to modern media, such traditional means of communication as postcards also play a role. This limited edition of a postcard by Manfred Stadlmann promotes anti-corona vaccinations.
150 Years of Collecting and Communicating
From the Imperial Postal Museum to the Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication
A virtual exhibition by Museumsstiftung Post und Telekommunikation.
Curator: Johanna Geßner
All objects are part of the collection of Museumsstiftung Post und Telekommunikation.