Things We Keep—exhibition at the GHI

Nostalgia is often connected with objects—by looking and handling things we feel transported back to another time, we become aware of time passing and the world changing. In connection with the conference the German Historical Institute shows the exhibition ‘Things We Keep’.

What do a jam pot, a fountain pen, a house number plaque and a mixer tap have in common? All these things have been brought to Britain by German immigrants and expats.
Curated by researchers from King’s College London and the German Historical Institute and designed by artist Rolf Sachs, the project explores the narratives behind the things we keep and why we keep them. The exhibition will be on display during the 25th anniversary of German re-unification on 3 October 2015 and document materially the ‘new’ Germany, bringing together East and West.
Expatriates face difficult decisions about what to take when moving abroad, a selection process that heightens the significance of the objects they decide to keep. However, most people can put their finger on a few things they would never want to leave behind. In short, we all have our desert island objects that remind us who we are by making us remember who we were.
Sidestepping economic and cultural value, this material culture approach is interested in the emotional dimension of the materiality of everyday life. Some of these things have a practical value, though all of them have over time acquired a personal and emotional meaning to the German expats. The things can be objects of nostalgia, are connections to the past, or narrative pegs for identities on the move, and yet they become an inherent part of a new life in Britain.
Things We Keep is a Culture at King’s College London project in collaboration with the Department of European & International Studies, the German Historical Institute and artist Rolf Sachs. It has been curated by Dr Katrin Schreiter, Teaching Fellow in German & European Studies at King’s College London, Dr Tobias Becker, Research Fellow at the German Historical Institute with the assistance of Julia Alcamo, undergraduate research fellow at King’s College London.
To find out more about the project go to or follow it on Twitter @thingswekeep.

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