{Germany} Invasion of the Vikings

October 27, 2014


With Hallowe’en just a few days away, I feel like I should be writing about something spooky, but instead I’m going to tell you about the Viking exhibition I went to see the other week here in Berlin. But I guess Vikings can be quite scary and thus suitable for Hallowe’en.

Anyway, the exhibition – which goes by the simple, fuss free title “Die Wikinger” – is an international travelling exhibition, bringing together the best of the Viking related collections of the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, the British Museum in London and the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte in Berlin. Much anticipated as the exhibition as been here in Berlin, photography is not permitted so you will have to contend yourselves with this shot of the exhibition poster outside Martin-Gropius-Bau, the hosting venue:

Die Wikinger

The ‘piece de resistance’ of the exhibition – displayed in the Martin-Gropius-Bau’s main hall – is the restored Viking ship Roskilde 6, at 37m long and 4m wide the largest known Viking ship to date. It not only forms the central point of the exhibition, but is also used as a hook to talk about ships as the central point of Viking culture. As well as learning about Vikings and their ships in everyday life – alongside maps of famous Viking ships and routes, related objects such as oars, weather vanes, and depictions of ships e.g. on coins or in ancient graffiti – visitors can find out more about the construction of Viking ships, brought to life through some animated film clips, and of course about the excavation and subsequent restoration at Roskilde. In total, 9 ships were discovered there during the construction of the Viking Ship Museum. About 25% remained of the original Roskilde 6, which took over 15 years and 8000 hours to restore! It is a truly awe inspiring exhibit.

The remainder of the exhibition, displayed in a series of galleries which circle around the central Roskilde 6 display in the main hall, is broadly divided in to four themes which all relate back to the ship, i.e. as a method of transport, a weapon for war, a status symbols and a vehicle to the afterlife . In “Contacts and Exchange” we find out about the different places and cultures that the Vikings travelled to or traded with, with objects ranging from traded goods such as jewellery, tools, and clothing to raw materials and coins used as direct payment, as well as weights and measures. “War and Conquest” introduces us to the various weapons and armour used by the Vikings, from swords, lances and battle axes, to spurs, helmets and shields. “Power and Dominion” focuses on the life of Viking rulers, such as Harald Bluetooth’s royal court complex discovered in central Jütland in Denmark, or the ‘King’s Hall’ as a place of royal representation and feasting, complete with gold treasures and a reconstructed throne for visitors to sit on. And finally, “Faith and Ritual” looks at both traditional rituals and beliefs of the Vikings – with their gods and Valkyries, amulets and idols – as well as the introduction and subsequent spread of Christianity. Throughout, beautiful exhibits displaying the best of the three museums’ collections show the craftsmanship and sophistication of Viking culture, and the famous Lewis Chessmen of course make an appearance too.

Comparing this exhibition to the one I saw in Edinburgh last year, I have to confess I preferred the latter, and that’s not because I have a bias towards the National Museum of Scotland. I just thought it had a better, more obvious narrative and liked how it deconstructed the idea of Vikings as a homogenous community, starting with how ‘Viking’ itself is an Old Norse word simply meaning ‘trade trip’ or ‘raid’, and making a lot more of the stories behind the individual objects. Whereas in this exhibition – which presented ‘Viking’ as a “sort of job title for pirates and looters” – the narrative between the different themes and the links back to the ship were not always obvious, some of them only becoming clear on reading up some more on the exhibition after my visit. However, the objects themselves were no less stunning, and the central display about Roskilde 6 I felt alone was worth the visit. Especially paired with the supplementary exhibition “Ships of the Vikings – Boatbuilding in Martin-Gropius-Bau”, which looks in more detail at the various Roskilde ships and excavations, conservation and restoration, and where you can see a builder at work on a reconstructed ship model. If you are even remotely interested in the Vikings, then I would definitely say the exhibition is worth a visit. There’s also a fun quiz app to accompany the exhibition, available in both English and German for iPhone and Android phones.

“Die Wikinger” is showing at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin until 4th January 2015, from Wednesdays to Mondays (closed on Tuesdays), 10am to 7pm. Admission is 12 Euro, half prices for concessions, ICOM members and anyone under age 18. Although the object labels and some of the more detailed descriptions are in German only, all the major introduction and overview text panels are in both German and English, so the exhibition is suitable for English speakers.

 Note: Check back later in the week, when I will be sharing a fun, Viking related DIY with you in the latest edition of ‘Museum Craft Corner’!




  1. {DIY} Make your own Hnefatafl game set | Museum Diary - October 31, 2014

    […] last year, I’ve been wanting to make my own hnefatafl Viking game set. The much anticipated Viking exhibition here in Berlin, which I shared with you on Monday, seemed like the perfect excuse! There are different sizes and […]

Leave a Reply