International Museum Day – Part 1

May 15, 2011


“Every year since 1977, International Museum Day is held worldwide sometime around 18 May. From America and Oceania to Europe, Asia and Africa, International Museum Day aims to increase public awareness of the role of museums in developing society. The theme for International Museum Day 2011 is Museum and Memory.” (1)

Most of the world is indeed celebrating IMD on 18th May itself, except for Germany, Austria & Switzerland who were celebrating today, 15th May (presumably to be able to hold it over a weekend). We marked the occasion by heading down to the Museum für Frühindustrialisierung (Museum for Early Industrialisation), which we had timed to be there in time for lunch so we could partake of the sausages at the IMD BBQ tent (bringing my total of different kinds of sausage eaten on holiday up to five: Bratwurst, Mettwurst, Currywurst, Knackwurst & Krakauer – not to mention the types of Wurst I’ve had as sandwich toppings…) Rather bizzarly, a mandolin, banjo, flute & bodhran combo band were providing live entertainment in the form of Scottish folk music while we lunched. But I digress. Back to the museum.

The museum covers three floors. The ground floor begins with an exhibit in the foyer about energy, complete with working models of water wheels, steam engines, windmills and the like that spring to life at the push of a button. A touch screen also rewards you with an animation of one of the steam engines on display when you answer all the questions correctly. A display of clocks, bells and a time-punch machine then leads you into “Zeit, die neue Dimension” (time, the new dimension), which looks at how factories developed and things became more automated, people worked longer hours and had to do things faster, and air and water pollution increased. Happy times. There’s an AV playing some historical footage, and an overview showing the different steps from harvesting cotton in the fields, to brushing, spinning, bleaching, weaving, dying it etc.

The first floor starts with an exhibit about textile technologies and is crammed full of looms and other machines of which I only know the German names (Bandmühle, Zwirnmachine, Flechtmachine, Kartenschlagmachine, Klöppelmachine etc). Several of the machines that weave ribbons and the like (for which Wuppertal was famous) are in working order and loaded with reels of cotton thread. Luckily, a family with three hyper-excited kids passed through at the same time as us so the gallery assistant put the machines into action for them. The noise was incredible (of the machines, not the children^^)! There’s also various stencils and pattern books on display, which help to show the amazing technology behind the looms that weave ribbons with logos or lettering on them.

The other half of the first floor is divided into two sections: firstly “Lebenswelt – Arbeitswelt” (work/life, or rather life/work balance, in modern terms), with sub-topics such as daily life, immigration, economy, religion. I learned that out of 37,791 working people living in what is now Wuppertal in the early 19th century, 9,436 were employed in the textile industry, by far the largest in that area at almost twice the number of craftsmen, and 3,869 of those were silkweavers and 1,365 were dyers. Anyway, enough of the statistics. Exhibits included models of houses and factories, a variety of historical documents (such as contracts, account books, school reports, society yearbooks and extracts from marriage and birth registers), personal items (such as games, musical instruments, wine glasses, pocket watches and pipes), items related to work and trade (such as weights and measures), paintings of key historical figures, and a display about the church complete with pew, pulpit and organ pipes. The second section on that floor was about politics and infrastructure and covered Prussia (complete with Bismark helmet and Kaiser Wilhelm mug), French occupation, and the expansion of the road and railway network, among other things. Other exhibits included an old letterbox, a lifesize stagecoach, and a replica train carriage where you could sit and watch an AV. One thing I particularly liked about the interpretation – the same thing is true of the ground floor too actually, was that the curated text on the exhibit intro panels was always accompanied by historical descriptions or first person accounts to exemplify what was being communicated.

Finally, the second floor looks at the life of children and child labour during the time period in question (with the usual school benches and slates typical of such exhibits), and also has a space for special exhibits. In fact, one had opened just today, displaying historical posters advertising beer. This may sound profane, but was actually akin to an art exhibition and was interesting in the way it showed how artistic styles had developed and changed over the years. The posters were accompanied also accompanied by a collection of novelty beer mugs and other memorabilia, and an AV showed old TV adverts of one of Wuppertal’s former breweries.

All in all, I would say a successful International Museum Day was had by all!

(photos to follow in a separate post as I’m writing this in the middle of packing for our trip home tomorrow and haven’t had a chance yet to download them)




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