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The beauty of a local museum

Going local can be charming and rewarding experience, says Brian Starbuck.

The town of Mittweida lies in deepest Saxony about 50km west of Dresden. Although it has a modest population of around 11,000, it nevertheless has its own museum, the Alte Pfarrhäuser, housed in a converted old vicarage about a hundred metres from the pretty town centre.

We have been travelling to this part of Germany for 10 years now and visit the museum most years. Indeed, I strongly suspect that we might be the only English visitors the museum has ever had. So, what is so wonderful about this museum that keeps drawing us back?

Firstly, even though it is a local foundation, almost everything is done to the highest standards. Display cases are modern and beautifully made, information panels detailed and the story of the town is well told with a range of artefacts, paintings, photographs, models, rooms and documents.

Secondly, it changes a bit every year. Rooms are updated with new displays and items added, and there is nearly always a temporary exhibition. This year it was an exhibition of the work of a photographer from the region, and in a previous year, for example, there was a tongue-in-cheek exhibition on ‘Sachsische sprache’, the Saxon dialect.

The building itself has been beautifully restored and has a pretty garden, so it feels like visiting a lovely old house rather than a museum. Some of its rooms are meticulous recreations of historical living and work spaces in and around the town, focusing on the agriculture and cottage industries that sustained the region before industrialisation. A weaver’s room with its loom is on display, as well as a full set of shoemakers tools and lasts. We were fascinated to see how the many-angled pitched roofs of the town are mainly a result of adding extensions to the height and depth of the buildings, to make extra working and living space inside.

The museum also explains the unusual structure of some of the local villages, which sometimes have two or more parallel streets in the valley not far from the stream. At one time most houses would have owned a strip of land running from their property up the side of the valley and onto higher ground. Some families still own these strips of land, usually arable these days, and rent them to larger farms in the area.

Last summer we had a special treat. Having visited the museum, once more dramatically increasing the number of UK visitors, we decided to sit in the garden for a while and look out over the roofs of the town. After a time, one of the staff came out and offered us coffee. The table was beautifully laid and cups, saucers, coffee and biscuits were provided. We sat in the shade on a lovely day, in a lovely place, enjoying the sunlit view and conversation about just how good a small museum in Germany can be.

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