Living History: Germany's Open Air Museums

Living History: Germany's Open Air Museums

These five museums bring history and archaeology together with interactive exhibits and reconstructed dwellings that whisk visitors back in time and show them what life in Germany was like in the past. You just might find yourself believing that time travel is possible.
by Nicolette Stewart

Black Forrest Open Air Museum/ Schwarzwälder Freilichtmuseum Vogtsbauernhof

Where: Gutach (Schwarzwaldbahn)

What: The Vogtsbauernhof (Vogts farmstead) once stood alone in the midst of fields.  Today, it is surrounded by other historical buildings in an open air museum meant to bring Black Forrest history to life with daily demonstrations of historical cooking, animal husbandry, and milling techniques alongside exhibits of clothing, tools, and handcrafts.  The museum contains six farmhouses, a day laborer's cottage, and 15 out buildings--including mills, barns, and a chapel--the oldest of which was built in 1590.  Founded in 1964, it was the first open-air museum in Bavaria.  Visitors can explore the buildings and the grounds, have a picnic, or watch (and participate in) demonstrations.

Web: www.vogtsbauernhof.de

Hitzacker Archeology Museum/ Archäologisches Zentrum Hitzacker

Where: Hitzacker (Elbe)

What: Have you ever wondered what life was like over 3000 years ago during the Bronze Age?  The Hitzacker Archeology Museum is an interactive, open-air experience meant to show you just that.  Visitors can learn how to make fire using stones, find seasonal herbs, how pottery was fired, and how people traveled in dug-out canoes.  What we know about daily life during that time period is also presented: what people ate, how they dressed, and the dangers they faced.  Archaeological excavations on the site revealed the remains of a 3,000-year-old house and eventually proved that humans had used the site 4,000 years ago for a period of over 1,000 years.  Buildings have been reconstruction and artifacts from the excavations are on display.  "The overall concept of the Archaeological Centre is to allow visitors to experience and understand the complex tension between people, environment and technology in its historic dimension," explains the Museum website.

Web: www.archaeo-zentrum.de

Histotainment Park Adventon

Where: Osterburken

What: This open-air park focuses on medieval history, and the group that run it are re-constructing a medieval village piece for piece.  Open to the public on weekends, the park offers demonstrations of historical techniques from cooking to construction.  They also keep several rare races of sheep and have a small petting zoo for children.  From April through December, larger medieval reenactment events such as a Knight's Spectacular, a Viking Festival, and The Great Battle are also held at Adventon.

Web: mittelalterpark.de

Pfahlbaumuseum/ Pfahlbau Lake Dwelling Museum

Where: Uhldingen-Mühlhofen/Unteruhldingen (on Lake Constance)

What: The lake dwellings--or pile dwellings--of the Stone and Bronze Age have been recreated in this unique open-air museum.  Tour houses set out in the water on stilts and learn about the lives of the people who once lived in similar buildings in this area thousands of years ago.  A small Neolithic Age village has also been reconstructed on the shore.  As the museum website says, "In typical houses with reed roofs, visitors learn about the world of the early farmers, fishermen, and tradesmen at Lake Constance. Whether landscape history at Lake Constance, house construction, farming, life stock breeding, fishing or how to make a fire the Stone Age way – in these cottages, the basic elements of the Stone Age period are being demonstrated. Of course, visitors can become part of the experience by handling the tools and artifacts themselves."

Web: www.pfahlbauten.com

Wikinger Museum Haithabu/ Viking Museum Hedeby

Where: Schleswig

What: During the Viking age, Hedeby was the largest Nordic city.  A museum was opened on the site of the former city in 1985 and is now considered one of Germany's most important archaeological museums.  Indoors, visitors will find exhibits featuring artifacts and information about the life of the inhabitants of this city.  Outdoors, they can stroll the grounds and dwellings of a small recreation of what was once a busy trade center.

Web: www.schloss-gottorf.de

by Nicolette Stewart