The Berlin Museum of Medical History is the successor of Rudolf Virchow's Pathological Museum. It is a public museum with regular opening hours and seeks to offer visitors insights into the fascinating history of medicine over the last four centuries. The permanent collection currently shows some 750 objects comprising pathological-anatomical wet and dry specimens as well as models and graphics from central medical locations: e.g. the anatomical theater, the laboratory and the patients ward.
The museum's special exhibitions focus on current aspects of medicine and medical history. They range from miracle healing in the ancient world to current advances in forensic medicine. Furthermore art and medicine frequently meet in small interventions or larger presentations.
The Museum is a popular place for numerous events. All year-round lecture series, discussion forums, conferences, workshops and celebrations take place in the ruin of the former lecture hall.
About 90,000 people visit the museum per year. Mostly dealing with individual guests of all demographic groups also many pupils from higher grades and members of medical professions find their way to the museum.
Rudolf Virchow attached the highest importance to his collection of pathological-anatomical specimens. He called them his "favorite child. For him, the abundance of clinical pictures collected here documented the level of knowledge he had achieved in his field of expertise, pathology.
Specimens offered him "real pictures" with which he could convey his knowledge through "direct visualization". He used his collection for medical teaching and made it publicly accessible in order to increase the knowledge of health and disease among the population.
The specimen is the primeval object of all medical collecting. Since the mid-16th century, specimens were made at anatomical teaching and research institutions to illustrate the structures of the normal body. At the beginning of the 19th century, the perspective changed. Medical researchers became increasingly interested in the diseased body. Rudolf Virchow followed the practice of English medical schools and expanded his predecessors' collection of only 1,500 specimens into a comprehensive collection.
There has been a museum at the Charité for over 100 years. It was initially called the "Pathological Museum. Its founder, the world-famous pathologist Rudolf Virchow, opened it in 1899, having had to fight for it for a long time. During the comprehensive renovation of the Charité from 1896, the museum building with a total of 2,000 square meters of exhibition space then made the start.
Virchow wanted to use his museum in three ways. On the three upper floors, students and colleagues were to be able to view preparations in private study. The lower two floors, the so-called show collection, were open to the interested public. In the lecture hall, Virchow explained preparations from all museum levels to his students in order to teach his listeners, as he said, to see medically.
Virchow's motto was "Not a day without a specimen." By the end of 1901, he had stocked the museum with 23,066 preparations. Almost all forms of disease known at the time were on display in large glass showcases. Series of different clinical pictures illustrated different manifestations of certain ailments. The course of the disease was clearly demonstrated. Diseases such as tuberculosis, on the other hand, could be reproduced on various organs. An impressive three-dimensional textbook of pathology had been created.
Pathology Museum in the 20th century
After Virchow's death in 1902, the public part of the Pathological Museum was open to interested laymen until 1914. The First World War and the economically difficult post-war period put an end to this. From then on, the museum functioned exclusively as a teaching and study collection for medical education for several decades. However, all of Virchow's successors felt committed to the collection mission of the Institute of Pathology.
At the beginning of World War II, the museum housed about 35,000 specimens; by the end, only about 1,800 remained. Bomb hits severely damaged the museum building. After the end of the war, it could not be used for a long time. However, the responsible Charité pathologists did their utmost to rebuild the specimen collection.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the plan to reestablish a museum on the same site took concrete shape. However, it was not to be anything more than a pure pathological museum in Virchow's style. In 1998, a much broader "Berlin Medical History Museum of the Charité" was opened.
Today, the museum displays around 750 mostly pathological-anatomical wet and dry preparations in its large specimen hall. The eight fully glazed display cases date back to Virchow's time.
Each front is dedicated to a larger organ, such as the brain or heart, or a functionally related anatomical region, such as the respiratory or digestive tract. First, the viewer is presented with the normally developed, healthy structure of the body. Then their gaze falls on a selection of impressive disease findings in organ specimens of the respective anatomical region. At the end of each display case, a particular clinical picture is shown - for the heart, for example, a heart attack, and for the liver, cirrhosis of the liver.
In two introductory display cases, impressive instruments and specimens convey basic knowledge about dissection and the technique of dissection. An information panel under the heading "In Memory" points out the ethical dimension of collecting and publicly presenting human specimens.