Museum for the German language, Mannheim

A new museum

The house for the German language is to become the new public home for the German language. The museum offers space for the social examination of topics related to the German language. In permanent and special exhibitions as well as discussion and information events, visitors can immerse themselves in the world of language, educate themselves and get in touch with other language-loving people.


The city of Mannheim in the north of the german state Baden-Wuerttemberg was chosen as location. Not only does the “Leibniz Institute for German Language”, the central non-university institution for the study and documentation of the German language in its current use and its recent history, have its headquarters, but also the Council for German Spelling. It was established in 2004 as the successor to the Intergovernmental Commission on German Spelling by Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol, Liechtenstein and the German-speaking Community of Belgium as a regulatory body for spelling the German language. But as a former seat of the Duden until 2014, a dictionary and the Brockhaus until 2015, a lexicon, the city has long been a focal point for topics related to the German language.

Building ground

North of downtown Mannheim flows the river “Neckar”, which flows into the Rhine in the north of Mannheim. In extension of the main axis through the city center from the castle to the northeast, the public place “Alter Messplatz” is directly after the Neckar crossing. Here, in addition to the “Old Fire Station”, an event location, the building plot in a prominent location right on the Neckar. It forms the transition from the urban square to the recreational area on the Neckar. The green Neckar foreland is used by the people in addition to sports activities, such as jogging, gymnastics, basketball and football also for recreational purposes such as barbecues, picnics and sunbathing.

The volume of the building is determined by three factors in three steps:

Step 1 – Room alignment

Along the Dammstraße, which runs along the Neckar, the building takes up the alignment of the building on the neighboring property. At the eastern end, the spacious museum forecourt on the “Kurpfalz Bridge” with access to the Neckar foreland marks the end of the construction volume. The façade facing this forecourt takes up the flight of Baumhain on the neighboring “Old Messplatz”. The height of the building, with its approx 16m, is oriented to the surrounding buildings. Together with these, the building includes the urban square and frames it visually.

Step 2 – Superior reference system

The outer cubature of the building is based on the conditions of the place and tries to respond to these adequately. Inside the museum, on the other hand, the supraregional significance of the theme “German language” is to be expressed. East-West axes divide the building into its coarse functions: gastronomy and event, museum and administration. The intervening spaces are used as a foyer, for development and as a communication space. Within the four bars, the spaces are separated by dividing walls that run in a north-south direction.

Step 3 – Dynamics

Languages are subject to a constant negotiation process and adapt to new circumstances. This dynamic inherent in the topic of the exhibition is accorded a corresponding appreciation in the cubature of the building. The floors and thus also the three theme complications of the exhibition are interwoven in the facade for better readability. Terraces and ledges create exciting spatial geometries in the interior, which are used programmatically and through access routes.


Three atriums divide the building into four buildings. The two buildings in the middle part form the exhibition area. While the administration is located in the north, in the southern part there are the rooms for gastronomy and events.

Gastronomy and event

This part of the building consciously opens up to its surroundings and people. The transparent facade offers insights into its interior, gastronomic offer, events and special exhibitions. The direct access from the Neckar promenade invites you to enter directly from the sun terrace. With its special offer for picnickers in the form of a packed basket and fresh drinks, the gastronomy also opens up to the people of the city. The necessary infrastructure is provided with kitchen and storage space in the basement. For the conference rooms on the first and second floor and for events in the foyer, the gastronomy functions as an internal catering.


With access to the museum forecourt and sun terrace on the Neckar, the foyer is designed as an open, transparent and multifunctional space. Here is the information desk and a seating area with a seated staircase for larger events. The stairs and the elevator take visitors to the toilets and the cloakroom in the basement, the exhibition areas and the function rooms.


Via the foyer, visitors to the museum can reach the three floors of the building and the associated museum departments. The two museum building parts are separated by a court. With its bridges and stairs, this not only serves to open up the main exhibition and helps with orientation, but also offers seating and the museum shop a chance to take a short break while passing through the exhibition. For concentrated reading, research and small group work jobs are available.


In the northernmost part of the building is the administration of the museum. 34 workplaces, kitchens and meeting rooms are available here for the administration of the museum and for study purposes. With the entrance to the west, the administration has its own subordinate access. About this is also the affiliated roof terrace to reach.

Public roof garden

To compensate for the lost public green space, a public, freely accessible roof garden is created on the roof. This is at any time publicly accessible through a separate entrance on the north side of the building. The roof garden should be available to residents and visitors as an urban oasis on the roof at leisure. Joint gardener projects bring people from the neighboring neighborhood together and invite them to get to know each other.

Area network

Language as an act of understanding and performance of the mind must be understood as an extremely complex discipline that draws on a variety of skills and knowledge. These competences and the knowledge condition each other. Without the knowledge of structure and structure of a sentence, a high vocabulary hardly brings anything. In order to make these relationships of partial disciplines to each other visible and tangible in the museum, the exhibition spaces are linked together in a network. Related topics are close together. Using thresholds, stairs and bridges, it is possible to move from one topic to the next. In each room there are different options to continue the tour of the exhibition. The visitor always decides for himself which topic interests him next. The museum is divided into the three major themes:

Speaking and listening

In this complex of topics everything revolves around the actual speech act and the analysis of it. How are sentences formed and how can we understand them? The tour starts here with the process of language acquisition. How do people learn languages and what skills are needed? The next room will deal with phonetics and phonology. Here, the visitor learns how to create the smallest meaningful units of language in the mouth and pharynx. If you want, you can either move on to the room “Voice and Prosody”, “Letters” or “Morphology”.

Scripture and literature

Anyone who chooses to enter the museum about this topic first learns interesting facts about the documentation and writing of language. The introduction takes place via the printing press of Gutenberg. From letters to vocabulary and punctuation, the visitor learns everything worth knowing about this topic.

Facial expressions, gestures and situation

The pragmatic, ie situational dimension of language takes this issue into account. The language used always depends on context and situation. Even the introduction of standard German, regiolects and dialects shows that varieties of language always have only a limited scope. It continues from here to the sociolects and on this to the jargon and rhetoric.

Language and architecture

Natural languages are human-specific, culturally produced and traditional languages that have a grammatical structure. The most important feature of natural languages and their components, their linguistic signs, is their representativeness, that is, the fact that they have semantic, propositional contents. Languages can be examined within the areas of syntax, semantics and pragmatics. These can be seen on the surface of the museum in their most closely related architectural element, the wall. In the arrangement of the stones, their materiality and the surface texture, they represent these.

Wall and syntax

The tradition of stacking stones in architecture forms the syntactic structure of the system. This is the purely formal relationship between the characters, rules of the join, and ordering and ordering functions.

Wall and semantics

As the smallest element of the wall, the single stone carries an architectural-semantic content. It is about the assignment of meanings to the characters. Its special surface treatment creates a link to a specific crafting process. The individual surface, the unique appearance, the way in which light and shadow act on the stone trigger completely different associations in the viewer. According to Wittgenstein and his utility theory of meanings, explaining a sign means explaining its use. Linguistic expressions are usually not used consistently. There are rarely clear, necessary and sufficient criteria for their use. Rather, there is usually a whole range of different uses for each linguistic term in the different contexts. The rules that follow the language usage in a speech community are not only grammatical rules but also deep grammatical rules. That is, the set of expectations, conditions, and responses that the speech community usually associates with the utterance of an expression or phrase in a given situation. The set of all rules of a language community is also called language games.

Wall and pragmatics

Each row, which is formed from differently carved stones, is executed in another natural stone. The regional materialities create different connections between the viewer and the wall. This pragmatic dimension encompasses the effect of signs and meanings on specific recipients. Familiar with the materiality, one recognizes local textures of the homeland and is already in a certain relationship to them. But outsiders also have a very special relationship to the stones through individual experiences, for example through travel, visits, and the nationwide use of the building material. The signs on the pragmatic level are thus ambiguous. The meaning of the ambiguity of the signs is to reach as many groups of our pluralistic society as possible through the multiplicity of codes in order to be clear to many. Not ambiguity is the issue here, but complexity.