Social Media in Museums
Close to people

Селфі Гете в музеї Вальрафа Ріхартца в Кельні
Селфі Гете в музеї Вальрафа Ріхартца в Кельні | Photo (detail): Anke von Heyl

On the Death of Tankred Dorst
“We are the pain”

Tankred Dorst
He was one of the most important authors of contemporary German theatre: Tankred Dorst | © dpa; picture alliance / Fredrik von Erichsen/dpa

Collecting, conservation, research and education – up until now, these were the classical tasks of a museum. Today, new challenges await these cultural institutions. Museums are having to adjust to demographic changes and altered viewing habits in the digital age. In this context, a museum’s visibility within the flood of information is decisive, as is the question of whether it leaves a lasting impression in the web.

The need is growing for contact with one’s favourite museum in the web as well. But successful communication in social networks can be achieved only with a smart digital strategy. The Städel Museum in Frankfurt underscores the opportunities present in an unrestricted access for everyone in digital space.  Here, too, the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen (art collection of the German Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia) in Düsseldorf is committed to artists, but also recommends an individualisation of access. Still haltingly, but with increasing frequency, jobs dealing exclusively with the institution’s digital presentation are being created in museums.

Sender and recipient

Where does one get involved? Not an easy question to answer because each platform has its own dynamics. And target groups’ accessibility cannot be broken down into simple formulae.  

Selfie at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt Selfie at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt | Photo: Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main If one takes a look at museums’ Facebook activities, one sees that, apart from event announcements, postings about the museum’s own works that invite Facebook users to interaction with a trending hook/hashtag are popular. Some institutions are experimenting with the live-video function. Facebook functions like the merchandise displays in the shop windows of a pedestrian zone. Above all, major brands enjoy the greatest popularity. At first place with over 500,000 likes is the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart. But exhibition houses with numerous temporary exhibitions also score points. Thus the Schirn Kunsthalle (Schirn Art Hall) in Frankfurt has almost 90,000, the Bundeskunsthalle (German Federal Art and Exhibition Hall) in Bonn a solid 75,000 likes.

On the micro-blogging network Twitter, museums with enhanced interaction are rewarded. If they master real-time communication, they can present their contents to a wide audience and engage in conversation with them, above all in the case of internationally formatted actions such as #MuseumWeek or #askacurator.

Sharing and participation

Connecting online and offline worlds makes sense in every respect. Here, museums can build up a faithful following that also acts as an analogue messenger for the institution. Numerous encounters, for instance in tweetups (personal meetings of Twitterers) have demonstrated this. On the occasion of its 200th anniversary, the Städel Museum had 120 participants on site – but all told reached many times that figure online. As guardians of auratic works and for the most part extraordinary architecture, museums maintain and administer valuable image motifs. By enabling access to these images via exclusive photo walks, they are particularly attractive to the growing community of photo-fan influencers on Instagram. Moreover, anyone who follows hashtags such as #artwatchers or #emptymuseum will get an urge to visit a museum.


Media changes and transitions bring not only new parameters for the ways in which a museum must present itself outwards. Visitors’ expectations are also changing, since today everyone is able to produce their own contents and wish to make full use of the opportunity. In social networks interaction is what counts most. Put simply, Web 2.0 readily presents itself as the “participatory web.” It’s about much more than just clicking on the like button.

Social-Media-Abend im Städel Museum Frankfurt Social-Media-Abend im Städel Museum Frankfurt | Foto: Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main Highly successful actions in the social web live from the input of their participants. A case in point was #myRembrandt, an action initiated by Munich’s Pinakothek art museums. A specially-created replica of a small Rembrandt self-portrait provided bloggers and fans of the museum with the perfect template for telling their own stories. In this way, they became co-curators for new contents. Emotional relationships towards Rembrandt’s art arose, but also a close connection with the institution, which can count regularly on the supporters gained here for future actions.

Mini-storytelling for everyone

But it need not always be large-scale projects. The celebrated user-generated content can be initiated with smaller impulses. In this way, with the action #beuysheute (Beuys today), the Museum Schloss Moyland inspired numerous fans of the artist to contribute their own thoughts on the anniversary of his death, and thereby making his memory visible in the web.

Social media  evening at the Städel Museum Frankfurt Social media evening at the Städel Museum Frankfurt | Photo: Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main Another extremely popular action in various social networks is the #MuseumSelfie, an incentive to photograph oneself in a museum and by doing so become part of a world-wide action. In this way, the web assembles countless affirmations of a particular museum or even a specific work of art. The Osthaus Museum Hagen has even gone a step further and developed an exhibition just with selfie stations with celebrated works of art. In this way, the problem with image copyrights that in some institutions has led to photography prohibitions can also be circumvented.

Social media evening | Städel Museum Frankfurt Social media evening | Städel Museum Frankfurt | Photo: Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main If we consider the landscape of German museums, a great deal of space in the digital area must still be occupied. Above all, trained personnel are needed if the potentials of an open museum are to prove themselves viable for the future. Universities are therefore urgently called upon not to ignore the topic of cultural mediation in the social web. Then things will work out with the visitors, too.

He was awarded the Georg Büchner Prize and the Max Frisch Prize, his life’s work was honoured with the theatre award “Der Faust”. Now Tankred Dorst has died. He was 91.

Tankred Dorst never had any illusions about the “dreadful state of the world”. “For the dramatist, utter hopelessness is a blessing because it supplies him with material”, the playwright once said. Thus for him the world with its myths and fairy tales, visions and conflicts, was a virtually inexhaustible set of props for his theatrical work. On Thursday, this great collector of stories died in his adopted home of Berlin.
In the past 50 years, Tankred Dorst wrote more than 50 plays – one of the most important and productive authors of contemporary German theatre. In December 2015, at a moving celebration of his 90th birthday, he announced that he was working on yet another play. “I want to bring out one more”, he said at the time, vigorous and spry, his only support the silver knob of his walking stick. Right to the end he let himself be seen, low-key and deeply interested, at literary events in the capital, for instance in the home of the former Suhrkamp head, Ulla Unseld-Berkéwicz.
To this day, his masterpiece is the anti-war play Merlin oder Das wüste Land, (Merlin or the Waste Land), which premiered in 1981 at the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus. With its almost 400 pages, 97 scenes and up to 10 hours’ performance duration, his recasting of the Arthurian legend about Merlin, the wizard and son of the Devil, is a challenge for any ambitious dramaturge. “A magnificent projection of the end of the world, along the lines of Wagner’s Ring”, adjudged Die Zeit.
The end of the world. This was the leitmotif of Dorst’s life early on. His father, a factory owner from Oberlind in Thuringia, died when the boy was six years old. At 17 he was sent to the western front shortly before the end of the Second World War and ended up for several years as a prisoner of war of the Americans. Back home, he felt uprooted and disoriented, until work at a puppet theatre for adults in Munich during his university studies brought the turning point.
Westdeutsche Rundfunk took notice of him as early as his first major piece, Die Kurve, (The Curve), which premiered in Lübeck in 1960. Shortly thereafter began his long-term, productive collaboration with Peter Zadek, a “young genius from London”, as the publishing house put it at the time. Works such as Toller, Eiszeit (Ice Age) and Auf dem Chimborazo (On Chimborazo) came on the stage, pieces such as Korbes, Karlos and Herr Paul followed later. And films like Klaras Mutter (Klara’s Mother) and Eisenhans (Iron Hans) also arose. 
“In our decades”, said laudator Georg Hensel in 1990 at the Georg Büchner Prize award ceremony, “no other German playwright has commanded so many musical keys, such an organ keyboard width: sentimental, ingenuous, awkward, lyrical, humorous, ironic, sarcastic, cynically vulgar, mean as a snake – and always clear as crystal.” The common thread connecting all this throughout the great diversity of forms and themes remains human beings’ failure to achieve their utopia.
Since the early 1970’s Ursula Ehler, a scriptwriter 15 years his junior, was Dorst’s alter ego. She became his wife, and also his co-author for most of his works. “When one sees you together, one might think a stone is dancing”, said director and companion Hans Neuenfels at the 90th birthday party in Berlin.
It was just four years ago that Dorst moved to Berlin with his wife – after more than four decades in the more sedate Munich. „I wanted to do something new once more, said the author, who never shrank from experimentation in any case. In 2006, already 80 years old, he debuted as an opera director with a new production of Wagner’s Ring in Bayreuth – accompanied, however, by stormy booing.
Last summer, his final piece, Das Blau in der Wand (The Blue in the Wall), about an elderly couple conversing their way through life, premiered as a co-production by the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus with the Ruhrfestspielen in Recklinghausen. There, too, he held fast to his motto: “Above the entrance to my theatre I would write: We are not the doctors, we are the pain.”