Monika Som­mer

Di­rec­tor, Haus der Geschichte Öster­re­ich

METROPOLE - Vienna in English - - PROFILES -

“A cen­tury af­ter the found­ing of the First Repub­lic, we want to rein­vig­o­rate Aus­tria’s aware­ness that democ­racy and its in­her­ent val­ues are not self-ev­i­dent. Democ­racy must be con­tin­u­ally worked on.”

Dr. Monika Som­mer is a busy woman. As the di­rec­tor of the Haus der Geschichte Öster­re­ich (House of Aus­trian His­tory) since Fe­bru­ary of last year, she faces a daunt­ing dead­line: to get the long-awaited new mu­seum of the coun­try’s con­tem­po­rary his­tory ready to open in time for the Novem­ber Cen­ten­nial of the found­ing of the First Aus­trian Repub­lic. Good na­tured and level-headed, she never seems to break a sweat. Which is say­ing some­thing, as the project has taken nearly 20 years to evolve from con­cept to re­al­ity. It is a vi­sion that his­to­rian Som­mer, with an im­pres­sive ca­reer in the mu­seum field, has “held close to her heart for a long time.” Lo­cated in the Neue Burg sec­tion of the Hof­burg on Helden­platz, the site for the new in­sti­tu­tion is rife with his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance, per­haps most no­tably, or no­to­ri­ously, for the bal­cony from which Hitler an­nounced Aus­tria’s Anschluss with Nazi Ger­many. For Som­mer, prac­ti­cal­ity, though, is more of a con­cern than con­tro­versy. She is look­ing into the pos­si­bil­ity of mov­ing into a more mod­ern fa­cil­ity in the fu­ture, that would not only pro­vide more space, but also more “ar­chi­tec­ture that ex­pands our cul­tural sym­bol­ism of the Repub­lic – and not just im­pe­rial his­tory.” But with chal­lenges like tight bud­gets, re­duced ex­hi­bi­tion space and chang­ing ad­min­is­tra­tions, the time takes prece­dence over place. In less than a year on the job, she has sin­gle-hand­edly built up a 16-mem­ber staff while “si­mul­ta­ne­ously de­vel­op­ing the con­cept, com­mis­sion­ing the ar­chi­tec­ture and defin­ing the work pro­cesses.” “Af­ter this decades-long de­bate over the found­ing of the Haus der Geschichte, what mat­ters most now is sim­ply get­ting it started and mak­ing it hap­pen.” Som­mer’s vi­sion is one of a plat­form for ex­change and di­a­logue, es­pe­cially on the role of democ­racy it­self. “In cer­tain phases of our his­tory, democ­racy has failed. We need to re­new our in­ter­est in and start a new dis­cus­sion on the is­sue. As cit­i­zens, we are re­spon­si­ble for this process and should form our own opin­ions.”

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