Mr. Stahnke and the Mystery of the Roman Sling Bullets
Featuring the Battle of Varus from April 2002 until January 2009
This exhibition focused on the discovery of the Varus Battle’s site: a criminalistic search for clues and a scientific process based on circumstantial evidence. These central ideas were embodied by the fictitious archaeological detective »Mr. Stahnke«, whose short texts provided guidance through the labyrinth of the investigation. Stahnke asked questions, commented, speculated about various aspects and invited visitors to participate actively in that process. What is the meaning of the leaden Roman sling bullets, and what really happened here 2,000 years ago, he pondered. The first step of the investigation led the visitors into the library, while it led Stahnke to realize that »too many clues can be more misleading than none at all. The Varus Battle’s site has been suspected in 700 places… which means any new suggestion will cause others to ridicule me.« Yet Stahnke was unperturbed: »My colleagues all laughed, and I didn’t resent that. I remember us standing there – meadows and fields as far as the eye can see, and nothing but a few lumps of lead in my hand and a couple of crazy ideas. But we were absolutely determined: We will dig! Later on, no one was laughing anymore. « This is how the actual search for evidence began. It resulted in an excavation; it took us into the laboratory, into the surrounding nature, to the numismatic collection. It took us into the past and finally brought us to »the ravine«. The split skulls and bones as well as countless, sometimes almost completely destroyed finds yielded valuable information, but most of all they symbolize the unfathomable scope of the tragedy that occurred here 2,000 years ago in the ravine at the foot of the Kalkriese Hill.
Arminius – A Cheruscan Becomes a National Hero
For Stahnke the case was solved, except for one question: »Arminius owed Rome so much: his education, his military skills, his career. And then, of all people, he creates that ambush. Is such a person a hero? A liberator? A traitor? « Stahnke resumes his search. There are many leads. For centuries, the Germanic hero has fueled the imagination, and in the 19th century, he even became a German national hero. Yet Arminius’ true character remained in the dark. He was always perceived as the character that was in demand at the time – courageous, brave, bold and finally desperate. When he raised his sword with the last of his strength in Claus Peymann’s production of the »Hermannschlacht« by Kleist, there could hardly be any doubt: his time was up. And what would have happened if Varus had won the battle? The short film ends the search for evidence of the Varus Battle at Kalkriese with unusual questions and answers.
About the Exhibition
On more than 600 square meters, the exhibition presented more than 3,000 archaeological finds, among them also the collection’s highlight: the face mask of a Roman rider’s helmet. The exhibition was conceptualized and realized by Intégral Concept, Paris; Jangled Nerves, Stuttgart, Media Content Hamburg, Art Studio Babelsberg, Potsdam; Médicis, Lyon; Peter Gerdes, Leer and the employees of »VARUSSCHLACHT im Osnabrücker Land – Museum und Park Kalkriese gGmbH«. The texts set in italics are quotes of the original exhibition texts.
In 2005, »VARUSSCHLACHT im Osnabrücker Land gGmbH« was awarded the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage in the archaeological sites category. This prize can be considered the »Nobel Prize for Historical Heritage Preservation«. It honored the merging of science, architecture, landscape, exhibition concept and an engaging, accessible presentation. »For the didactic and innovative interpretation of an antique battle field which decisively influenced the course of European history, and for the preservation and decoding of its minute traces via interdisciplinary scientific research.« These are the summarizing words of the Europa Nostra laudatio on the occasion of awarding the European Heritage Award 2005.