People are the greatest threat to humanity

Greatest threat to humanity? - Look educate yourself about epidemics

Hildesheim - plague, cholera, Spanish flu: people have been plagued by epidemics for thousands of years. When the medical causes were unknown, outbreaks of disease were usually interpreted as God's fate or punishment. An exhibition with the title “Epidemics - Curse of the Past, Threat of the Future” in the Hildesheim Roemer- und Pelizaeus-Museum deals from the end of August with infectious diseases and how they have been combated since antiquity.

Planning for "epidemics" began as early as 2018, when no one suspected that a virus called Sars-CoV-2 would change the course of the world. “Our exhibition has become incredibly topical,” says curator Oliver Gauert in the orphaned museum, where the gigantic show will be set up in the coming months on more than 1,800 square meters. It is the largest exhibition that has ever been shown on the subject, says Gauert.

Tragedies of mankind, successes of medicine

Among other things, visitors can look into a plague hospital from the Middle Ages and the reconstructed laboratory of Paul Ehrlich (1854–1915), in which he developed his remedy for syphilis, the Salvarsan. "We show the suffering and tragedies that epidemics brought on humanity, but also the successes of medicine," says Gauert.

While the risk of a pandemic was always present for infection researchers, most lay people were surprised by the extent of the Sars-CoV-2 outbreak, with over 111 million registered cases and around 2.5 million deaths worldwide. "In the western world in particular, many believed that they had overcome epidemics with improved hygiene, vaccinations and antibiotics," says historian Gauert. “In other parts of the world, on the other hand, death went on and on - just think of AIDS, malaria or Ebola.” Using the example of leprosy, the exhibition shows how sick people are sometimes stigmatized and rejected today.

Epidemics as a social booster

Globalization with the international exchange of goods and travel as well as climate change favor the spread of pathogens. It is expected that dengue fever will increasingly penetrate from tropical and subtropical countries to southern Europe.

If the corona pandemic allows, the exhibition is to be shown from August 28 to March 27, 2022 in Hildesheim and then in other locations. Important works of art should also be on display.

It may be comforting that epidemics give a boost to social change. The last German cholera epidemic in Hamburg in 1892, for example, resulted in the construction of a new waterworks and a waste incineration plant. Housing conditions also improved. Corona has already accelerated digitization in many areas of life up to this point in time.