It was October 1898 when Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II and his wife, the Empress Augusta Victoria, arrived in Jerusalem with their entourage and 112 luggage trunks, setting up a 75-tent encampment in what is now part of the city’s downtown for the duration of their week-long visit.
The “Brangelina” couple of their time — it was just a year into the kaiser’s 30-year-rule, but five of their seven children were already born — their visit was documented by dozens of reporters and photographers, the last century’s precursors to the kind of paparazzi that would later swarm around William and Kate’s royal wedding or Madonna’s world tour.
In a new exhibit opening Monday and running through March, the Tower of David Museum is taking a look at the historic visit through a modern lens, cleverly utilizing iPads, Photoshop, Facebook and virtual books to illustrate the story of that day.
“He was a nutter, a megalomaniac,” described Ruta Peled, the curator of the exhibit. “We wanted to show the Kaiser, the pomp and circumstance of his visit. It’s using current technology on a story that was.”
Displayed in just one room of the museum, Peled and her team laid out the story of the visit, using snapshots and newspaper clippings to weave together the events of the time. iPads hidden inside antique cameras allow visitors to touch and magnify photos, while virtual newspapers offer background information about the days leading up to the visit and the surrounding stories. Visitors can also photograph themselves “with” the Kaiser, virtually adorning heads with tiaras and crowns and then posting their pictures on Facebook.
The museum staff worked on the exhibit for a year and a half, said Peled, researching related stories such as the loan of furniture from the American Colony Hotel for the Kaiser’s tents, or his tendency to try and throw off newspeople by deciding on events at the last minute or sometimes arriving hours early at a destination. For Jerusalem, a sleepy city at the time, the visit necessitated great effort, at least on the urban planning and beautification front.
For visitors interested in following the kaiser’s route in Palestine, the museum is offering guided tours to the Old City churches sponsored by the Kaiser as well as routes through west Jerusalem looking at where the kaiser slept and hosted visitors, and talks discussing the possible hidden agendas of the visit.
The exhibit opens Monday, October 29, and closes in March 2013.