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My Collection is Bigger Than Yours: Europe’s Wackiest Museums

The German Hygiene Museum. Yes, there is a German Hygiene Museum. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Europe has Some Strange Museums

By Ann H. Waigand

OK, you’ve done the Louvre, the London Museum, the Prado and the Vatican. But what makes you think those famous art museums are all Europe has to offer? From Ferragamo shoes to dog-collars to mazes, cockeyed collections are everywhere in Europe, and visiting a few will give you a whole new perspective on “stodgy” European culture.

Frog Museum Münchenstein

Frog museum

Most people travel to this picturesque corner of Switzerland with thoughts of alpine vistas and edelweiss, but you know better. The real attraction here are the frogs — stuffed, outfitted and placed round the table or in the drawing room in scenes of daily life in the 19th century. “Why?” you ask.

The owners provide a timeline of their frog-collecting activities, dating to 1981, including their visits to Frogtown, USA, and listing in the Guinness Book of World Records, as if to prove that it’s not at all unusual to own—and exhibit—over 10,000 “frog objects.” Open first Sunday of each month, 2:00pm – 5:00pm. Admission free/voluntary contribution.

Frog Museum Münchenstein
Grabenackerstrasse 8 (basement)
CH-4142 Münchenstein, Switzerland
Tel: +41-61-373-08-30
Fax: +41-61-373-08-31

The National Museum of Pasta Foods

Rome, ItalyNational pride dictates that Italy should be home to a museum of pasta. You did know, didn’t you, that the Italians deserve credit for an invention — dry pasta — responsible for spaghetti lovers from Seattle to Singapore being able to enjoy their pasta?

The National Museum of Pasta Foods

This is a serious scholarly museum, publishing books and holding seminars on pasta, with pasta history, industrial archaeology, and pasta production taking center stage.

One room, however, is filled with photos of famous celebrities downing platefuls of spaghetti and linguini. Open Monday to Friday, 9:30am – 5:30pm, except national holidays. Admission Lit 12,000 adults, Lit 9,000 children.

The National Museum of Pasta Foods
Piazza Scanderbeg 117
00187 Rome, Italy
Tel: +39-66991119
Fax: +39-66991109

Salvatore Ferragamo Shoe Museum

Florence, ItalyImelda Marcus move over! Salvatore Ferragamo designed over 10,000 shoes in a career that lasted from the 1920s until his death in 1960 and examples of most of them are here in the family’s Florentine palace.

Though Audrey Hepburn’s shoes, part of the permanent collection, are currently on tour in Japan, you’ll still find Marilyn Monroe’s stiletto heels, sandals covered in 18kt. gold and pearls, and shoes crafted from dyed fish skins as well as photos and sketches that shed some light on the design process.

Open Monday to Friday, 9:00am – 1:00pm and 2:00pm – 6:00pm, except Good Friday, Easter Monday, August 1-31, and December 23 – January 6. No entrance fee. All visits are guided and should be booked in advance via telephone or fax.

Salvatore Ferragamo Shoe Museum
Palazzo Spini Feroni, Via Tornabuoni no. 2
Florence, Italy
Tel: +39-055-3360456
Fax: +39-055-3360475

International Esperanto Museum

Vienna, AustriaRemember Esperanto? It was supposed to be a new language created so that people around the world could communicate with one another. Esperanto never caught on, although this museum, which covers other planned languages (such as Star Trek’s Klingon), claims several million people still use it.

Though books are the basis of the museum, there are also displays of Esperanto-labeled hair gel and pantyhose, Esperanto stamps, and Esperanto posters. Open Monday and Friday, 10:00am – 3:45pm, Wednesday, 10:00am – 6:00pm. No admission charge ÖS 20. Charge to use the library, ÖS 20 per day.

International Esperanto Museum
Austrian National Library
Hofburg, Michaelerkuppel
A-1010 Vienna, Austria
Tel: +43-53-55-145

European Asparagus Museum Schrobenhausen, Germany

European Asparagus Museum Schrobenhausen, Germany

For those frustrated by asparagus’ all-too-short season, Germany has created the world’s first museum dedicated to the “royal vegetable.”

That’s right, three floors of a tower in the city’s 15th-century wall are given over to asparagus in paintings, porcelain, and silver, and a lifetime’s worth of vital details, such as common asparagus pests or the use of asparagus in medicines.

Evidently, Schrobenhausen was the site of the first asparagus planting in Bavaria and, certainly, if you plan your trip for May or June, you should be able to include the local spargel (white asparagus) at every meal.

Open daily, April 15- June 30, 10:00am – 6:00pm; Tuesday to Sunday, July 1 – September 30, 2:00 – 4:00pm; Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday, October 1 – April 14, 2:00 – 4:00pm. Admission DM 5 adults, DM 2.50 children (ticket covers entrance to all city museums).

European Asparagus Museum
Am Hofgraben 1
86529 Schrobenhausen, Germany
Tel: +49-82-52-70-13

British Lawnmower Museum Southport, England

No, this collection can’t claim Julia Robert’s lawnmower, but will the lawn tractor presented to Prince Charles and Lady Diana as a wedding present do? How about a collection of racing lawnmowers “once driven” by a British riding pro?

In addition to garden implements of the rich and famous, the museum prides itself on restoring and exhibiting lawnmowers, claiming to have mowers dating back to the time of Custer’s Last Stand (but not in use at Little Bighorn, we presume).

Open daily, except Sundays and Bank Holidays, 9:00am – 5:30pm. Admission £1 adults, £.50 children.

British Lawnmower Museum
106-114 Shakespeare Street
Southport, Lancashire, England PR8 5AJ
Tel: +44-1704-501336
Fax: +44-1704-535369

Mustard Museum

Dijon, FranceIt’s no wonder this spicy condiment, and the factory that makes it, have thrived. St. Vincent, patron saint of winegrowers, also looks out for mustard producers. This is just one of the delectable facts of mustard history you’ll uncover in the Amora Company’s museum dedicated to the most valuable export of the city of Dijon.

Plenty of mustard pots and posters help compensate for the heavy emphasis on the Amora Company’s origins and current production. Guided tours, Wednesday and Saturday, 3:00pm, September 15 to June 15; daily, except Sunday, 3:00pm. Admission F 15.

Dog Collar Museum Leeds Castle, England

Dog collar choices: leather or chain, right? How about an iron collar with spikes (16th century, to protect a hunting dog from wild boar attacks)? A dog choker made of bicycle inner tubes? A brass collar obviously worn by a terribly self-assured pup, with the inscription “I am Mr. Pratt’s Dog, King Street, Nr. Wokingham, Berkskhire. Whose dog are you?”

There are over 100 collars in this exhibit, many collected by the late medievalist, John Hunt. If you can tear yourself away from dog collars, your admission ticket also buys entrance to Leeds Castle, which bills itself as the “loveliest castle in the world.”

Open daily (except Christmas), March to October, 10:00am – 5:00pm, November to February, 10:00am – 3:00pm. Admission £10 adults, £6.50 children.

Dog Collar Museum
Leeds Castle
Maidstone, Kent, ME17 1PL, England
Tel: +44-1622-765400
Fax: +44-1622-767855

The Cumberland Pencil Museum

Keswick, EnglandThis is not your garden-variety, #2 pencil. Cumberland Pencil Company makes artist, watercolor, pastel, and sketching pencils, all crafted from local graphite, which explains the rotating art exhibits in the company’s museum.

On display is a special pencil given to World War II pilots. Part of the lead has been replaced with a map of Germany and a tiny compass resides underneath the eraser, both intended to help a captive escape from prisoner-of-war camp.

Open daily year-round, except December 25, 26, and January 1, 9:30am – 4:00pm. Admission £2.50 adults, £1.25 children.

The Cumberland Pencil Museum
Southey Works, Greta Bridge
Keswick, Cumbria, England CA12 5NG
Tel: +44-17687-73626

German Hygiene Museum Dresden, Germany

Did you put together the Invisible Man or Woman, 1960’s anatomical model that was supposed to teach us the location of the gall bladder and a little bit of sex education?

Find a life-size version at this museum whose focus is the human body not deodorants and disinfectants.

Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, 9:00am – 5:00pm; Wednesday, 9:00am – 8:30pm; Saturday, Sunday, 10:00am – 5:00pm. Admission DM 5 adults, DM 3 children, free on Fridays from 1:00pm.

German Hygiene Museum
Lingnerplatz 1
01069 Dresden, Germany
Tel: +49-35-1-4846-0
Fax: +49-35-1-4955-162

Volkswagen Model Museum

Königslutter, GermanyThough private collector Reinhard Sokoll has amassed almost 6000 models of Volkswagen Beetles, representing the entire history of the Bug, he reports an Austrian collector has more. But does his Austrian counterpart also have Volkswagen Beetles as toothbrushes, ashtrays, letter openers, and butter dishes? Open by appointment.

Reinhard Sokoll
Am Lauingerweg 61/62
D-38154 Königslutter, Germany
Tel: +49-5353-7744
Fax: +49-5353-7606

Museum of Mazes

Ross-on-Wye, England Mazes on the wall, mazes on the ground, hedge mazes, mazes you build yourself….you can get lost in this museum. Open daily, 11:00am – 5:00pm, except between October and March when admissions times are restricted (and vary) or the museum may be closed for maintenance. Admission £3.50 adults, £2.00 children.

Museum of Mazes
Symonds Yat West
Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire HR9 6DA, England
Tel/fax: +44-1600-890360

Cultural History of the Hand Museum

Wolnzach, GermanyCoins, stamps, toys, jewelry, all to do with the human hand, originated as a private collection of a local businessman, culled through and selected by a German ethnologist for display in this museum. Open Wednesday to Sunday, 1:00 – 5:00pm. Admission DM 4 adults, DM 2 children (+ DM 1 per person for guided tour).

Museum of the Cultural History of the Hand
Am Brunnen 1b
85 283 Wolnzach, Germany
Tel: +49-84-42-16-54
Fax: +39-84-42-71-15

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