Before the backdrop of current debates about the crisis of liberal democracy the four chapters of the exhibition highlight the central challenges in politics and society faced by contemporaries of the Weimar Republic. The energy and modernity with which democrats addressed these problems are indeed impressive and visionary. Many of the freedoms and creative latitudes they fought for and defended are milestones and have lost none of their actuality: women’s suffrage established in 1919, compromise as a fundamental principle of democracy, the implementation of the social state, the fight for an unbiased treatment of sexuality, the innovations in urban design and housing, and the new regulation of the relation between state and religion. The focus therefore lies not on the downfall of the Weimar Republic, but rather on how the citizens dealt with the controversial topic of what democracy is and should be, and how the decisive principles of democracy evolved.
The title of the exhibition goes back to the book On the Essence and Value of Democracy by the constitutional law scholar Hans Kelsen, who also drafted the post-war Austrian constitution. Among constitutional law teachers of the 1920s Kelsen was one of the few staunch defenders of the Weimar democracy. For him freedom and equality were not only essential fundaments of a liberal democracy, but at the same time significant arguments for the theoretical justification of the democratic idea. If it is true that no person has an inherent right to rule over another person and if at the same time it is clear that we need rule in order to lead our life in freedom and security, then democracy constitutes the best form of government, he concluded.
The exhibition is based on these principles. In its narrative it takes up the perspectives of democrats, highlights their achievements, describes their problems and examines their biographies.
The exhibition architecture allows visitors to tangibly experience the democratic system of government and employs a framing system as its design principle. This spatial support structure integrates the more than 250 exhibition objects – posters, newspapers, photographs, films and sound recordings as well as graphic prints and paintings, but also militaria, clothing and everyday objects – into a coherent system. By not using wall surfaces en bloc it creates an openness and illustrates the fact that democracy is not a fixed system, but rather that it consists of controversies and compromises, movement and change.