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Corpses, thimbles and watering cans

Don Rhodes wanders off piste

You probably think I’ve taken leave of my senses to suggest that Germans often have a zany side to their character, but just hear me out, for when it comes to museums, Germany’s range of collections is truly weird. How could anyone even think of opening a Pig Museum in a disused slaughterhouse (in Stuttgart) or a Museum of Snoring (to the south of Hanover) anywhere at all?

So, what do these oddities tell us about the nation?

Firstly, there is a strong compulsion in Germans to show how things actually work. It’s the impulse behind their amazing engineering and inventiveness. So they celebrate this in museums like the Swabian Clockwork Museum (Mindelheim, west of Munich), not to be confused with the German Cuckoo Clock Museum (Furtwangen in the Black Forest).

Sometimes these how-to museums celebrate the wonder of the everyday, like the Bread Culture Museum in Ulm. This has a well-stocked museum shop, but nevertheless doesn’t sell bread, not even a crumb.

The university town of Giessen north of Frankfurt has a museum to showcase the virtues of the much-undervalued Watering Can. Giessen means to pour but I’m not sure the irony is intentional. This particular museum promises over 10,000 specimens, with ‘more added daily’. Giessen must be dull because it also boasts a Mathematics Museum; try getting the kids into that one at half term.

Creglingen, in Bavaria south of Würzburg, has a Thimble Museum to exhibit the wonder of that most humble of devices – appropriately known in German as a ‘fingerhut’. The brochure says the thimble is ‘more versatile than you can imagine.’ I have to confess I’d not given the versatility of the thimble enough thought until now.

Secondly, there can be a ghoulish streak to the Germans. They have an Executioner’s Museum in Nuremburg, whose marketing blurb concedes that the museum has a lack of displays – mostly because they are presumably long-buried. The brochure goes on to boast that the museum has wonderful views of Nuremburg, no doubt a comfort to the erstwhile clients of the place.

And finally the Plastinarium in Guben southeast of Berlin combines both the how-to trend with the ghoulish one. It’s the creation of Gunther von Hagens, whose controversial Body Worlds touring exhibition first shocked the world 20 years ago, and the museum illustrates the techniques used by von Hagens for preserving corpses and body parts. This involves removing the skin and replacing the water in the body with polymers.

There’s an entry fee, but you do get free admission if you sign up to donate your own body. So that’s two admissions in all: one on the day you sign up and one post-mortem.

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