Do dinosaurs have a nationality?


Since 2016, the Foundation has sup­ported the journalism and media work of its project offices around the world with an independent programme in Germany. The International Journalists’ and Media Dialogue (IJMD) creates a platform for media professionals, their associations, and for political organisations and NGOs, so that they can learn together and from each other. In learning programmes, participants receive continuing education to promote independent journalism in their home countries. Workshops and conferences provide a forum for a global exchange on the freedom of the media and current challenges to journalism. In September 2019, a delegation from Kenya and Tanzania took part in a programme of visits for the first time. Their schedule included visits with editorial teams and the Federal Press Conference and workshops on journalism work under difficult political circumstances, on election reporting, and on journalists organising themselves. But organising such a programme is never a matter of routine. This became apparent when participants wished to have a discussion about the expeditions to Tendaguru Hill in present-day Tanzania (then German East Africa). It was there that the world’s largest dinosaur skeleton was excavated. Today, this Brachiosaurus is the centrepiece of the Berlin Museum of Natural History. The question of whether the skeleton should be returned forms part of a live – sometimes emotional, sometimes also populist – debate in Tanzania on colonial history. Is not the primary purpose of the dinosaurs to serve as showpieces, and could they perhaps be replaced by decept­ively similar replicas? Is there not a difference between natural history and cultural objects? Can dinosaurs that became extinct 60 million years ago be treated in the same way as a mask or a throne that can be attributed to a period of history or an ethnic group? These and other questions were put to Prof Johannes Vogel, the director of the museum, who also gave an insight into the scientific research activities of the Natural History Museum. One suggestion by the director was that the Natural History Museum could make available its expertise in joining African colleagues in digging for more dinosaurs, which would then remain in the country. That way, the Tanzanians would not just receive a dead object. They would receive knowledge of foundations and of structures for further research. In this way, Vogel said, the former colonial rulers would really face up to their responsibilities. Discussions about German colonialism are far from complete. Back home, participants made use of the exchanges in Berlin in continuing the debate in articles and commentaries. Yet again we’ve learned how important a change of perspective is for a global exchange.