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Continent of Contrasts

Events in Asia have influenced the cultures of the Western world for hundreds of years. In the West, the largest continent on earth has Europe as its neighbour. Asia has many faces. These are characterised by tradition on the one hand and modern day living on the other. The exhibition of the Übersee-Museum reveals a world that is looked at from six exciting perspectives, inviting visitors to explore this contrast for themselves – be it the Silk Road or a megacity, traditional theatre or the bright glittery world of Bollywood, and plenty more.

Starting with the religions, the museum’s excursion through Asia takes the visitors on a journey along the legendary Silk Road route, leading them to Shanghai with its futuristic architecture. The great diversity of Asian theatre is reflected in figures, masks and costumes on the one hand and the modern-day media and entertainment industries on the other. In the night-time rainforests and mangrove forests visitors can marvel at Asia’s great diversity of fauna and flora, which is competing for space with the agriculture industry. The foray ends in the Japanese garden, where the Asian life principle of peace and motion is manifested.

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Origin of the Religions

Asia is considered the cradle of the world’s major religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam originated here. In addition, China was also the birthplace of Confucianism and Daoism teachings, which is widespread throughout East Asia today. Shintoism, which is the largest indigenous religious community of Japan apart from Buddhism or shamanism, also shapes the lifeworld of the people in Asia.

Many Roads – One Silk Road

The Silk Road has always constituted a complete system of overland and sea connections between the Far East (China, Korea and Japan) and the Mediterranean area. The traffic routes served as a bridge between Asia and Europe. Commercial goods were transported via these routes, cultivated plants and natural products were distributed, and technologies, ideas and religions were disseminated. People of different descent and with different purposes, caravans and shipping fleets all made use of this gigantic network of routes.

Megacity Shanghai

In 1950 there were 48 cities with more than one million inhabitants, and the largest share of these cities was in industrial countries. Today there are more than 400 of these cities and the largest share is found in the so-called “emerging countries”. According to the United Nations, a megacity is a city with more than ten million inhabitants. An example of such a city would be the Chinese port city of Shanghai, with an agglomeration area of approximately 18 million people.

Theatre Synthesis of the Arts

In Eastern theatre, a myriad of different forms of expression offer a true to life and magical-cultic foundation for theatre stagings. The large "world theatre" of Asia includes puppet theatre and theatre of the spoken word, as well as music and dance theatres in different forms that correspond to the respective culture. Depending on the tradition, dance is combined with movement, battles and the art of warfare, sport and artistry, music, song and narrative art, stagecraft, pantomime and masquerade as well as amazing theatrical costumes, all of which merge to a complete work of art.

Between the Conflicting Priorities of Nature and Agriculture


When people first populated the regions and islands that are today referred to as “Asia”, they frequently encountered opulent natural treasures. Although it can no longer be ascertained how people felt about nature back then, a great number of scientific disciplines, such as archaeology, palaeoanthropology, ecology and ethnology provide an impression on people’s dealings with nature and where they made changes to it.

Quiet and Motion

In Asia, quiet and motion would appear to be a dominating life principle. The idea of “navigating” on a “journey” through life, both literally and figuratively, extends through all societies, cultures and rhythms of life. The most significant journey is that from life to death, and it is closely linked to the life-long quest for truth. At the end of every journey travellers will find peace, and in the exhibition this is expressed by the Japanese garden and the teahouse.