The Gutenberg Museum in Mainz – “The World Museum of Printing” – is truly an unmissable destination for any lover of the history of print. I’ve spent untold hours there in the exhibition rooms and library, learning not only about Gutenberg and his world but the entire history of the technology of writing. So it was with some surprise that I recently read that in this celebratory year of Gutenberg 2018—five hundred fifty years after his death—the museum dedicated to the great inventor is in the midst of a raging controversy.
A proposal to renovate the aging museum and turn it into a international showpiece has met stiff resistance from many citizens of Mainz, who will decide in a referendum in April whether the project should go forward.
At the center of the controversy is a new “Bible Tower” (Bibelturm) made of a lace of giant letters that would serve as entryway to the refurbished museum, adding new gallery space above and underground. The design won an architectural competition and reminds me a bit of a cross between the new tower at Tate Modern in London and the Pyramid at the Louvre in Paris—which similarly functions as an architectural doorway to the museum complex.
You can see the renderings and photos of the proposed building here. The citizens group opposing the move fears it will dwarf the historic medieval plaza of the Liebfrauenplatz, and worry about how it will be financed. Without wishing to enter the debate, I would say however that it is high time the museum got a facelift—not only architecturally but in terms of presenting its treasures. The displays are dated and old-fashioned and do not do justice to the remarkable collection of incunabula and printing technology that the museum has to share with the world.
Anyone who appreciates the tremendous history of the book and early printing has Mainz’s Gutenberg Museum on his or her bucket list. Here’s hoping that the town of Gutenberg’s birth finds a way to bring his epochal achievement into the modern age.
Article on the controversy in German here: