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Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe



Discover, learn and experience the museum - whatever your age and education level

by Christina NORWIG
Language: EN
Document available also in: DE

Dr. Matthias Hamann, Director of the Museum Service in Cologne, talks to EPALE Germany about target-group-specific learning activities.



Photo: Museumsdienst Köln

Mr. Hamann, you are Director of the Museum Service in Cologne. What exactly does that entail?

The Cologne Museum Service is a central facility that is responsible for educational activities at the nine museums in Cologne. We design, implement and evaluate the museum-oriented learning activities and projects in the nine museums with a team of 23 full-time and 130 freelance staff. The museums’ collections range from the ancient Roman world through to contemporary art. To make sure we don’t get lost in our vast range of activities, we work under the motto “We provide the programme.”


What does the Museum Service offer in the area of adult education?

The activities follow a content-related, methodical programme that is in line with our motto. They are sustainable, high-quality, innovative, demand-oriented and affordable. An aim in the coming years is to expand our “Lifelong learning” programme. This includes conventional guided tours, activities for working people in their best years and elderly people, for active, youthful seniors, and for those who rarely visit a museum.  Aligning ourselves with different types of visitors helps us with this development. Visitors want to discover, learn and be inspired in the museum, experience something and feel at home whatever their age or level of education.


You also take people who are learning German on tours around Cologne’s museums. To what extent is there an inter-cultural exchange on these tours?

The visiting of a museum is part of a level B2 German course for immigrants. The museum visit helps them to expand their vocabularies and to learn more about their new home in Cologne. The current developments have made this approach virtually obsolete, however. Currently a visit to a museum is to broaden one’s horizons - for both teachers and visitors alike. We all have to find our way in a trans-cultural environment because different things have a different level of importance in other cultures. For European art aficionados, the female figure from the baroque period is the “veritas”, the naked truth, whereas for someone from the Orient, the sight of a naked woman is better to be avoided. It is therefore good if the activities are based on mutual communication. When the dialogue is held at the same level, the cultural nuances are given free rein to come to the fore. A Hindu can tell me more about his current cultural practices than an Indologist, at the end of the day.

What opportunities do museums offer for inter-generational learning?

In autumn 2016 we are launching a project in which young and old people can jointly develop and offer guided tours. We coach them in this process and show them how the content can be best conveyed to the public.

Can people suffering from dementia benefit from a museum visit?

We have five museums that offer a programme for these groups of people. People in care come to our museums with their carers, experience a tour and take part in painting or music. The success of this programme is plain to see: the guests are in good spirits for days afterwards.


You also offer creative courses for adults in your programme. How does “learning by doing” differ from the traditional tour around an exhibition?

Individual courses focus on few objects only. Their technique or expressive power is analysed intensely, and they are a source of inspiration or a paragon for self-creativity. The focus is shifted away from acquiring knowledge and placed on to developing one’s own abilities. That is why these courses are held by artists. They can do that better than anyone.


What are the benefits of an excursion in comparison to a museum visit?

The visitor has the opportunity to place objects that they have seen in the museum before into their original context. History becomes a more vivid process when I can contextualize a church by seeing a Roman cemetery in its current, urban environment. Or when I compare classic designs with their low-cost related products in a Swedish furniture shop.


What feedback are you getting from your visitors?

They want more of the same. We can sometimes accommodate them, but not always. We are currently working on a programme that combines traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) with a museum visit.

What topics would you like to discuss with your colleagues from around Europe?

Incorporating creative, non-verbal methods into traditional tours for adults. Children have no problems with such fun elements, but adults do. And the subject of refugees and museums.


Many thanks for this fascinating insight into the world of Cologne’s museums, Mr. Hamann! We are looking forward to the feedback we receive from the EPALE community.
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  • Luisa Puppo's picture

    Many thanks to EPALE Germany and to Dr. Hamann for this interesting interview. I would like to know more about the Cologne experience and the development of creative, non-verbal methods into traditional tours for adults: I do think that - as a best practice - they could effectively fit in the planning of adult activities for tourism crafts tours connecting artisan workshops, museums etc., a topic on which I am working on account of CNA Liguria, the regional department of the Italian National COnfederation of Crafts and Small Businesses (see more here). I am willing to exchange views, experiences and ideas for further initiatives. Grazie e buon lavoro! Luisa Puppo