When the north was Danish

The Altonaer Museum, one of the largest regional museums in Germany, focuses on the art and cultural history of Northern Germany and presents the cultural and historical development of the Elbe region around Altona, Schleswig-Holstein and the coastal areas next to the North Sea and Baltic.

The permanent exhibition displays the most important regional exhibits in sections covering contains graphics, paintings, textiles, toys and cultural history artefacts from the fields of handicrafts, seafaring, living and working in both the countryside and town. The Altonaer Museum is now connecting its exhibitions and events more and more to topics from history which determined and impacted on the prospects of today’s inhabitants and on their identity within Hamburg.

With the opening of the KINDER-OLYMP, their own interactive children’s department, in the year 2006, the Altonaer Museum has also become a very popular destination for family days out.

Since the first of January 2008 the Altonaer Museum belongs to the Stiftung Historische Museen Hamburg.


History of the Museum

When the founders met on 11 October 1863 to launch the “Public Museum” on Altona’s grand Palmaille boulevard, it was a particularly unspectacular event. Some dedicated history enthusiasts had got together to open an exhibition in an inner courtyard building to display models and medals, coins and paintings, everyday objects and weapons from Altona’s eventful history. 


Reorientation under the responsibility of Otto Lehmann

Only when, more than three decades later, Otto Lehmann was appointed as the first professional director of the museum did the museum become much more significant: this zoologist and geographer, who was a follower of the progressive education movement, developed a completely new concept for the museum in this large, and at that time, Prussian city, which he was able to implement in 1901 in the prestigious new building on today’s Platz der Republik. Instead of following the usual dry systematic approach, Lehmann was more concerned with vividness and clarity. His concept was to inform and teach broad sections of the population about the natural and cultural history of their homeland. This was truly revolutionary and trendsetting at the time, so much so that many European museums, particularly Scandinavian ones, oriented their ideas according to this too. After much destruction during the war and a terrible fire which destroyed valuable parts of the collection in May 1980, this traditional establishment has developed into a museum that, on the one hand, looks into the history and development of Altona, a district of Hamburg today, and on the other hand also deals with the cultural history of northern Germany.


Otto Lehmann (1865-1951), first director of the Altonaer Museum
Flowers in the section for natural history. Photo: Emil Puls
Große Säugetierhalle des Museums (1901 bis 1913). Foto: H. Wernecke

Permanent exhibitions