History of the RJM

Founded in 1901, the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum für Völkerkunde (Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum of Ethnology) opened in 1906 in Cologne's Südstadt district on Ubierring. The RJM emerged from the private collection of more than 3,500 objects of the world traveler Wilhelm Joest, son of a Cologne sugar manufacturer, which he had left after his early death in 1897 to his sister Adele, who was married to Eugen Rautenstrauch in Cologne.

In memory of her brother and her husband, who also died three years later, Adele Rautenstrauch financed the construction of the museum, whose collection today includes some 65,000 objects from Oceania, Africa, Asia and America, 100,000 historical photographs and 40,000 reference books.

However, the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries were not only an age of travel and "discovery" but also of colonial oppression - ethnology also developed as an independent discipline during this period. Cologne was one of the strongholds of the German colonial movement. The founding history of the RJM also falls into this era, and an important part of the collection dates from before the First World War.

During World War II, the building was severely damaged: the entire north wing was destroyed down to the first floor. Despite an addition in the early 1960s, it became too small for the collection and exhibitions.

In addition, the Cologne "floods of the century" in 1993 and 1995 had rendered the underground depot areas unusable - a new building became imperative: after fifteen years of planning and realization, the RJM has been presenting itself to the public at Neumarkt with a comparative cultural exhibition since fall 2010. The museum has received a number of awards with its reopening. The most significant of these is the award of the Council of Europe Museum Prize in 2012. It was also nominated for the "European Museum of the Year Award (EMYA)" in 2012 and included in the "Excellence Club" of the "Best in Heritage" in 2013.

With the first restitution in 2018, a mummified head Toi Moko anAotearoa/New Zealand, the RJM began actively reappraising its collection history. Collection and institutional history, provenance research, and intensive collaboration with the countries of origin from which the objects come have become central themes for the museum.

The permanent exhibition will be further developed and revised in the coming years in collaboration with experts from the Global South and the diaspora.

The original facade of the building on Ubierring.
The Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum at the beginning of the 20th century.
Exterior view of the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum, (c) Rheinisches Bildarchiv, Photo: Wolfgang F. Meier