Some European city museums can be rich treasure troves of history and art –meaning centuries of a municipal life. Maybe my North American view of the city museum, as the lesser cousin, was previously influenced by our shorter history — if we do not include aboriginal history nor the Vikings landing on Newfoundland’s shores.
Social change, political revolution, war as well as natural and man-made disasters, have swept through some cities. Granted, sometimes a city museum may lack funds to have more sophisticated restoration methods or exhibit displays compared to national museums or niche art museums on a particular
artist. Some city museum art pieces seem to have been selected to signify a particular event or custom rather than fine craftsmanship. I confess I didn’t take many notes or conduct research to accompany these photographs but visually it’s not hard to see why some of these museums do offer some insight on historical wealth and cultural legacy.
Frankly I threw in my first European city museum visit, at the City of Freiburg museum, as an afterthought. I had half an hour to kill after wandering around inside the Freiburg Cathedral. A few days later in France, I dropped by Strasbourg’s City Museum which offered updated exhibit display designs, engaging commentary and free loan of audiotape players for visitors as they wandered about the museum.
There was even a cool audiovisual presentation downstairs in the dimmed basement, that integrated some holographic imagery of a ghostly French cartoon nobleman talking and presiding over the museum’s famous 1727 handmade paper model of the city. I did not know the famed German inventor of the printing press, Johannes Gutenburg spent a few years in Strasbourg while perfecting his printing methods with moveable type before he returned after 1444 to Mainz, Germany and printed the famous Gutenburg Bible.
In Germany, Karlsruhe’s City Museum highlighted its cycling forefather local, Karl von Drais, the real inventor of the push bike. Leonardo da Vinci roughly conceived of the idea but it was von Drais who actually built the prototype in 1817 which was used by primarily by middle-upper class men for recreational rides. In Germany it was known as the “Lauftmaschine” or “Draisine“. In England, it was the “Dandy Horse” or Hobby Horse. Apparently von Drais rode 50 kms. on his Lauftmaschine from Karslruhe to Kehl in 4 hours.
Interestingly, the paeon for the push bike inventor was right beside, another Karlsruhe luminary: Carl Benz for the creation of the Benz car, now Mercedes Benz. Strangely there were no postcards nor anything from the museum as a memento of Drais’ bike legacy. Later I noticed a token touristy Drais’ image on a mug at the Majorca Ceramic Museum. (A fabulous place to visit.)
When I was there, Copenhagen’s City Museum featured a temporary special exhibit on the history of its love affair with cycling which will be covered in
another blog post later. As soon as one walks upstairs into the museum, there is a whole wall display of plaques which were fashioned at the request of various guilds and trades in Copenhagen. Like Strasbourg, Copenhagen even briefly highlights abit of the Stone or at least the Bronze Age eras, in its history. Of course, nearly all above museums had something to illustrate the impact of World War II on its daily life and citizens.
Prague’s City Museum was architecturally largest that I visited, even though better Prague artifacts may reside in the National Museum by Wenceslas Square. The city’s architectural profile paintings run high up on front entrance old wall frescoes. However individual oil paintings from different centuries depicting Prague’s cityscape, were hung in the national museum all around the second floor, overlooking a palatial entrance.
Each of these places offered overview of changes in a city’s development, its cultural life, its spirit and snippets of historic daily life. Some museums may surprise you what may be tucked away.
Additional information on Karl von Drais was posted at the 2010 cycling exhibit, Copenhagen City Museum.