Unlike most other museums, the Danube Swabian Museum does not own a stock of objects that has grown over a period of decades. Before the foundation was set up in 1994, the viability of gathering enough historically and culturally significant objects for a new museum was “tested out” by building a tentative collection between 1988 and 1989.
The very first object, which was recorded in the inventory in 1988, was an ivory miniature of Empress Maria Theresa. Alongside 190 other specifically acquired objects, this miniature constituted the Federal State of Baden-Württemberg’s contribution towards the museum’s future collection. The German Federal Republic contributed a further 173 objects. The basic collection that came about this way was wide-ranging. It encompassed furniture and decorative pieces, graphic works and paintings, clothing and other textiles, books, crockery, household items, dolls in traditional dress, agricultural items, handicrafts and a refugee’s suitcase. Upon setting up the foundation in 1994, the collection was added to through donations from the four Danube Swabian Homeland Associations, who had contractually obliged themselves to support the founding of the museum in this manner.
Since then the collection has grown primarily thanks to a considerable number of private donations. These donations express the wish of many of those who belong to the war generation that the mementos of their old homeland, which they have been keeping safe for decades, find a long-term home, including after they pass away.
Above all, these mementos pay testament to daily agricultural life in the period up to World War II. There are only a few items from the world of the urban middle classes or of industry. The amount of fine artworks in the collection is also modest, with the exception of the estate of the Hungarian-German artist Josef de Ponte, which was taken into the museum’s possession in 2007. An important part of the collection’s content is made up of mainly private photographs, which usefully compliment the items the museum keeps. Alongside pieces which are of Danube Swabian origin, the museum also incorporates items from other ethnic groups into its collection, in order to present a comparison, and also other items which provide a greater historical context. Another focus is the history of shipbuilding in Ulm: In 2010 the museum was able to acquire the last local shipbuilders’ workshop from Eugen Hailbronner.
The defining feature of the museum’s collection really comes from the fact that hundreds of kilometres lie between its location in Ulm and the geographical area from which the items collected originate. The collection grew – and is still growing – mainly due to the private donations of Danube Swabians living in Germany. It consists predominantly of simple everyday objects, which are nonetheless connected to the myriad personal histories and memories of their owners in unexpected ways. Their testimonies as contemporary witnesses are recorded at the museum and archived as “memories behind the objects”.
In this process some of the common criteria for building a collection proved inappropriate, for example differentiating between an original and a fake. Within the culture of remembrance of refugees and expellees, reconstructions and/or constructions of those cultural assets lost, such as traditional costumes and models of churches, reveal themselves to have a considerable effect in the process of identity building. Thus they were also accepted into the collection just as any “real” pieces from Danube Swabian settlements.