German Emigration Centre wins EMYA and ss Great Britain takes the Micheletti - Museums Association

German Emigration Centre wins EMYA and ss Great Britain takes the Micheletti

The winner of this year's European Museum of the Year Award (EMYA) is the German Emigration Centre (GEC) in Bremerhaven, which received its prize at a ceremony held appropriately in Alicante, Spain - another port city with a long history.
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Javier Pes
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The judges praised the dramatic and evocative way the GEC tells the epic story of the millions of Europeans who fled poverty and persecution in the 19th and 20th centuries for better lives in the New World. Visitors can board a large-scale replica of a transatlantic ship, travel as steerage passengers, and experience the anxiety of being processed at Ellis Island before entering America, or being turned back.

The visitors receive an electronic ticket that allows them to follow the life story of one immigrant, discovering their hopes and fears and their eventual fate. The centre also provides access to international databases of passengers' lists so visitors can trace their ancestors who were members of the poor, huddled masses whose last sight of Europe was the north German coastline.

The judges of the European Museum Forum also award the Micheletti prize for the best industrial museum of the year, and were impressed by another epic story: saving the ss Great Britain from a rusty grave in the South Atlantic and 're-floating' it on a glass sea in its original dry dock in Bristol.

Again, it was the way visitors could experience the human drama of sailing as a poor immigrant to Australia or first-class passenger that clinched the Micheletti award for Isambard Kingdom Brunel's great iron ship.

In a strong year for entrants, other museums that received special commendations from the judges included the Paul Klee Centre in Bern, which combines a concert hall and public library with exhibitions of the Swiss artist's work. Over the border in France, the Museum of the Bresse Region at Saint-Cyr-sur-Menthon was singled out for the way it takes a critical look at the rural traditions of that area.

Returning to the theme of travel and transport, the Dutch national railway museum in Utrecht, Het Spoorwegmuseum, was specially commended for how it combines the romance of travel with rolling stock and its use of dramatic techniques such as live theatre and a dark ride.

Few museums challenge social prejudices against people suffering from a mental illness with the skill and sensitivity of the Dolhuys, a museum of psychiatry in Haarlem, and another Dutch museum that was specially commended.

Housed in a former hospital, visitors explore the shifting definition of what it is to be sane and insane and learn of the often brutal treatments administered to those deemed 'crazy'. Some of the former patients are gallery guides.

The Council of Europe award for a museum of pan-European significance went to the International Museum of the Reformation in Geneva - the city where John Calvin established the 'protestant Rome'.

Alicante's regional archaeology museum and the 2004 EMYA winner, the Marq, hosted this year's ceremonies. The city's regional government pushed the boat out with a firework finale on the waterfront to mark the 2007 awards and the European Museum Forum's 30th birthday.

Javier Pes

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