Cast iron medal by Hans Lindl. Lord Kitchener, asleep with soldiers emerging from his mouth. (Kitchener’s Dream 1914–1915). Germany, 1915.

Cast iron medal by Hans Lindl. Lord Kitchener, asleep with soldiers emerging from his mouth. (Kitchener’s Dream 1914–1915). Germany, 1915.

For our first #MuseumMonday, we made a trip to the iconic British Museum to see ‘The Other Side of the Medal: How the Germans Saw World War One’ – an exhibition of German commemorative medals, which shows the First World War from a different perspective.

Don’t be disheartened by the small size of this exhibition –  its collection of artwork will have you considering the effect of the war on a nation that crumbled under the conflict.

Typically overlooked as propaganda, these commemorative medals present the horror and brutality of battle and its collateral effects in a way that eluded most contemporary medals made by Allied forces.

The medals feature such infamous scenes as the flight of German Zeppelins over London, the sinking of the Lusitania (one of the propellers from this ship can be seen on display at the Albert Dock in Liverpool – click here for a free talk on these events) and a skeleton leading his platoon of infantrymen to their death.

There are also depictions of the collateral effects of war, such as the displacement of refugees, food shortages and starvation. International relations are simplified into tiny yet detailed caricatures, which provoke more thought than the most practised of writers.

While many of the German artists revived the medieval Dance of Death motif (think Tudor artist, Hans Holbein the Younger), others avoid the use of abstraction, choosing instead to show hospitals, sinking ships, and exploding shells: death does not come from an unseen force symbolised by the grim reaper, but directly from these acts of war which dominated land, sea and sky.

Keen art fans will also spot the artists’  rejection of Neoclassicism in favour of Expressionism, twisting and distorting reality to explore and portray the psychological effect of the war on the German public.

It’s a provocative display – a must see not just for military enthusiasts, but for anyone interested in a fresh perspective on how the Germans saw the war.

The Other Side of the Medal: How the Germans Saw World War One
British Museum
This is a free gallery running until 23rd November 2014.

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Sarah Ashbridge

Office monkey by day, forensic archaeologist by night, Sarah Ashbridge is a jack-of-all-trades and the master of one: the forensic identification the War Dead. She trained originally as an Egyptologist, but interests in the history of death and burial saw her make the step into archaeology, completing an MSc in Forensic Archaeology and Crime Scene Investigation at the University of Bradford. Armed with an ever-increasing library of books, a handful of illustration pens and a brand new trowel, Sarah writes our regular #WWWednesday column, working towards her PhD in Forensic Archaeology.

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