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Bahnriss?! Papier | Kultur

Exhibition of the German Museum of Books and Writing of the German National Library in Leipzig

Press release:  11.2.2016

If the word "Bahnriss!" (web break) is called out in the machine room of a paper mill, the paper makers know exactly what to do - there has been a technical breakdown, and production needs to be restarted. Today, however, there is the threat of a different type of rupture - the almost symbiotic link between paper and culture which developed over the centuries has become very brittle in the age of apps. The German Museum of Books and Writing of the German National Library in Leipzig is exploring the traditional link between paper and culture in its temporary Bahnriss?! Papier | Kultur exhibition, on display from 19 February to 2 October 2016.

When Italian paper makers developed techniques for creating large quantities of beautiful, large-format white paper from old rags in the 13th century this ushered in the "Age of Paper" (Lothar Müller) which in turn gave rise to a period of unprecedented cultural development. The white art of the paper makers and the black art of the book printers seemed made for each other. Over the centuries paper provided the basis of a culture which stored its data in text form. The arrival of the new and abundantly available writing material gave birth to an intensive commercial, administrative, artistic and literary culture. The prevalence of paper and printing also saw the skills of reading, writing and numeracy spread, to say nothing of composing, singing and making music.

The exploding book market of the industrial age caused paper consumption to mushroom to previously unimagined heights. The advent of film, radio and television did nothing to diminish the consumption of paper; this did not happen until the arrival of digital media left its mark on production figures. A decline in newsprint production can be observed worldwide: traditional producer countries such as Canada or the Scandinavian countries, but also China, the world’s largest paper manufacturer, have all seen a massive decline in production. Growth is still being posted, however, in packaging paper, cardboard, corrugated cardboard (not least due to online retail) and in hygiene-related paper products.

The exhibition is divided into seven thematic sections. A stone stamping trough from Hesse and the recently restored model of a paper mill are featured at the beginning of the exhibition. The "Überall Papier. Was kann Papier?" section is devoted to the numerous usage scenarios of paper. The fact that the age of paper is also the age of listing and bookkeeping, calculating and file-based decision-making processes is explored, as is the introduction of the punch-card system in which paper takes on a new function as a machine-readable data carrier. The last section of the exhibition looks at paper-based magic.

Bahnriss?! Papier | Kultur
Exhibition of the German Book and Writing Museum of the German National Library in Leipzig
19 February to 2 October 2016
Tuesday to Sunday 10:00–18:00, Thursday 10:00–20:00,
National holidays (except Mondays) 10:00–18:00
Admission is free of charge.

Exhibition opens: 18 February 2016, 19:30
Welcome: Michael Fernau, Director of the German National Library in Leipzig
Introduction: Dr. Stephanie Jacobs, Head of the German Museum of Books and Writing
Prof. Günter Karl Bose, Academy of Visual Arts, Leipzig: "Paper"
Music: Stanescu Tudor


The book has shaped our culture and civilisation like no other medium. For centuries our knowledge about the world and its peoples has been stored in books. The task of the German Museum of Books and Writing of the German National Library is to collect, exhibit and process evidence of book and media history. Founded in 1884 as the Deutsches Buchgewerbemuseum (German Book Trade Museum), it is the oldest museum in the world in the field of book culture, and also one of the most important with regard to the scope and quality of its stocks.

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