European City Museums More than Second Cousins: Centuries of Rich History

A medieval construction worker. Freiburg City Museum, Germany. June 2010. Photo J. Chong
Medieval construction worker. Freiburg City Museum, Germany. June 2010. Photo J. Chong

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

Satirical paintings of French bourgeoise. Strasboroug City Museum, France. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong
Some surprising old art: satirical paintings of French bourgeoise. Strasbourg City Museum, France. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

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.

Sled for nobility. Strasbourg City Museum, France. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong
Fancy sled for aristrocrats. Strasbourg City Museum, France. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

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.

Some real liturgical art treasures. Karlsruhe City Museum, Germany. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong
Some real liturgical art treasures. Karlsruhe City Museum, Germany. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

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.

Karl von Drais, inventor for the first push bike prototype. Karlsruhe City Museum, Germany. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong
Karl von Drais, inventor for the first push bike prototype. Karlsruhe City Museum, Germany. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong. His wooden push bike is also in museum.

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.)

Handcrafted clocks. Karlsruhe City Museum, German. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong
Handcrafted clocks. Karlsruhe City Museum, Germany. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

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

Side by side tandem bike. Copenhagen City Museum, Denmark. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong
Side by side tandem bike –car-like with bike handbar more like a car steering wheel. Copenhagen City Museum, Denmark. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

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.

Large astrological clock. Prague City Museum, Czech Republic. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong
Large astrological calendar. Prague City Museum, Czech Republic. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong. Centre is the city’s coat of arms which is found on buildings and in pavement mosaics.

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.

Acknowledgements:
Additional information on Karl von Drais was posted at the 2010 cycling exhibit, Copenhagen City Museum.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. taka says:

    Side by side tandem bike !!
    It seems to be difficult to run straight.

    Like

  2. timethief says:

    @Jean
    I really enjoyed reading this post. It’s so beautifully laid out and so well written. The photographs are eye-catching and you have continued your tradition of providing informative captions for every one of them.

    I know nothing about bicycling and was interested to read the brief history of Karl von Drais and the push bike that you provided. I simply cannot imagine what riding a side-by-side bicycle with another person and independent two steering wheels would be like. YIKES!

    Like

  3. Jean says:

    Yes, one wonders if the person who had the strongest pedal push and strongest, quickest steering handlebar control, would set the bike’s direction.

    Must have been a slower ride. It actually looks uncomfortable to have the steering wheel so close up. Thanks for dropping by!

    Like

  4. micki says:

    I am fascinating about the handcrafted clocks and the astrological calendar. I think they are just too beautiful to be true! The side by side tandem bike is so interesting! Beautiful writing and in-depth information you provided. I enjoy very much reading your post~~

    Like

  5. Sartenada says:

    In Finland, we have smaller museums, but some are unique in the whole world. One example:

    International coffee cup museum .

    There are more of 2000 coffee cups round the world.
    I love Your photo presenting handcrafted clocks. In my country, people yet make on winter courses. 🙂

    Thank You for this excellent post.

    Liked by 1 person

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