Tag Archives: Museum

Unusual museums in Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe abounds in such unusual museums. A region that’s rich in history and culture, it has many a splendoured space dedicated to both. During my visits there, I’ve toured horrific Nazi prisons in Warsaw, studied the life of the tortured genius at the Chopin museum in Vienna, and learned about the history of sex machines at the Museum of Sex in Prague. 50 instruments of grey?

Here then, are my picks of some of the most interesting and innovative museums to visit.

Bunker 10-Z

As museums go, Bunker 10-Z isn’t a typical one. The Cold War remnant is a chilling (literally) tribute to its origins, that of a nuclear fallout shelter. Now a hotel, it makes for an interesting exhibition space, with a diesel generator engine room, an air filtration room, an emergency telephone exchange, a decontamination room and a milk bar. The best way though to absorb this museum is by living in it.

10 Z was built by the Germans during WWII as a civil defense (Luftschutz) shelter from American and Soviet bombardment of Brno. After the war it served as a wine store for awhile before being confiscated by the Communists. The nuclear fallout shelter was completed in 1959 and intended protect 500 of the city’s political representatives, for three days. It opened to the public last year as hotel, with 18 rooms.

Nothing prepares you for the fallout of a nuclear war more than sleeping in a deathly quiet, pitch dark, underground space surrounded by gas masks, medicine boxes, maps, old motorbikes, telephones, typewriters and other items that would come in handy in case of a nuclear war.

There are guided tours. I do one on my own, armed with a map. There’s a diesel generator engine room, battery room, air filtration room, emergency telephone exchange and a decontamination room – all of which form the technical part of the shelter. Atop ventilators and electrical machinery, tiny televisions screen short videos and documentaries of the people who built and took shelter in bunker during WWII. There’s one that screens advertisements from Communist times. 

I end my tour at the milk bar, run by Chef Marcel Ihnačak, which serves ‘Stalinist and wartime specialties’ such as salads, open sandwiches, bread spreads, sundaes and custard cream. Russian Egg (35 Kč), Sweet Crêpes (45 Kč), washed down with cider (35 Kč) and beer (25 Kč).

Bunker 10-Z is located at Husova ulice. Daily excursions happen between 11.30 am to 6.15 pm; tickets without guide are 130 Kč. The milk bar is open from noon to 7 pm (except Mondays). 

[Read more about Brno’s underground spaces, here]

Time machines

Vienna’s Clocks Museum is an informative journey though time. Housed in one of the oldest houses in Veinna, Harfenhaus (Harpist’s House), it has over 700 clocks on display.

My knowledge of timepieces is limited to simple watches and clocks. At the museum, I learned about early chronometers, tower clock, pillar clocks, clock organs, lantern clocks, pendant and pocket watches studded with diamonds and miniature paintings, mantel clocks with pendulums, and Viennese flute clocks that played music. There were clocks bigger than me, and some smaller than a thimble.

Austria was once one of the leading clockmakers in the world and the museum showcases some of this history through exquisite pieces – an astronomical bracket clock from 1653, a tower clock from St Stephen’s Cathedral, and the oldest object in the museum, a watchman’s clock with ceramic figures dating back to the early 15th century.

All the timepieces had notes displaying their age and history, and many were in functioning order. My favourite section was the picture clocks, which were made in Austria in 1780. These stunning pictures usually features landscapes and historical events painted on metal sheets and hiding tiny dials. The most unusual piece was an astronomical clock designed by a priest. The altarpiece with wings it showed planetary constellations, and calendars of different cultures and faiths.

The timepieces are arranged in chronological order offering a good time machine into the history of clocks and watches, going back to the 15th century.   

The Vienna Museum of Clocks and Watches is located at Schulhof 2, Vienna, 1010. Entry is 7 Euros. It is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 10 am to 6 pm. 

Memories of a breakup

I walked into the Museum of Broken Relationships for a lark, wondering what catharsis the lovelorn could find in sending in mementos of relationships gone bad. An hour later, I walked out much sobered and realising that love can leave behind emotional and physical baggage. The museum was a repository of the latter.

The physical representation of broken relationships could not have a more apt, or beautiful setting: a baroque Kulmer palace in Zagreb’s historical Upper Town. The space is all white and has three main sections – the shop, the exhibit space, and a café. 

Each object had a synopsis, a story if you may, about its value. There were the usual stuffed animals, toys, books, letters, and drawings. The entries were anonymous so it was up to me to decipher the gender, the age and the person who has sent in that note. I read every story, and though much of it was lost in translation, the sense of loss was easy to understand.

MOBR mother, Mare Milin

A tribute to a mother lost to cancer. Photo courtesy: Mare Milin.

In the family section, a small nook had a dress, shoes and a handbag. Sent in by a grieving woman from Warsaw, they told a story about a family fighting cancer. Another story was of a supportive man who turned out to be a sexual predator. The story was from a survivor of child sexual abuse. An audio-visual section told the story of a young girl who fell in love with a soldier who never returned.

It wasn’t all sadness and despair. Some stories made me laugh. A hamburger toy, sent in from Luxembourg in 2011 had the note: ‘His dog left more traces behind than he did’. A router, sent in from San Francisco in 2008, had the neatest story: We tried. Not Compatible. An axe, called the ex-axe, told the story about a jilted person who took the instrument and destroyed all the furniture belonging to her lover. The cutest one was a list of 10 Reasons to stay. It was sent in by someone from London, and dedicated to a woman he knew for three weeks and who was leaving for Australia. Among the reasons were this gem: lately I’ve been finding lots more money on the streets of London.

The museum was started as an art project by Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić in 2006, a former couple who decided to celebrate the mementoes that made up their relationship. What started as a travelling exhibition found a permanent home in Zagreb in 2010.  

The museum has a Brokenships Museum Café for those looking for a pick-me-up but, I found the shop more exciting. Abundant in puns on break-ups, my favourite were chocolates with the message, hope your ass gets bigger.  

The Museum of Broken Relationships is located at Ćirilometodska 2, 10000. It is open from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m (June 1st – September 30th), and 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m (October 1st – May 31st). Entry: 30 kuna.

Let’s go LEGO

It felt like we were in the middle of the LEGO movie. The LEGO Museum (Museum of Bricks) is the world’s biggest and expectedly, is designed to astonish and delight.

Every brick had purpose. They found their way into over 2,500 exhibits, divided into 20 themes. There was a mini city, complete with little houses with gardens, police stations and post offices and constructions sites; railway sets; F1 racing cars; and characters from comics, movies or books. Think Batman, Captain Jack Sparrow, Indiana Jones and even Barbie and Ken sharing one roof.

The corners and alcoves were reserved for standalone heritage structures – the Eiffel Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Kremlin, among others. An impressive and pristine white Taj Mahal, we found out, was the biggest factory set LEGO ever made, with 5,922 bricks. 

The museum’s top floor was for those seeking to pay homage to that cult space saga, Star Wars. Characters, battleships, props from the movies were stacked, from floor to ceiling. A section was dedicated to that JK Rowling series, Harry Potter, was uninspiring. The giant spiders looked cute, Hagrid didn’t seem giant enough, Quidditch was indicated by just three hoops and the characters looked bored.   

The home city also found adequate representation. An entire alcove was dedicated to the Charles Bridge – a five meter monument filled with 1,000 figurines, which made for a fun game of guessing which characters were on the bridge.

The museum is located at Praha, Národní 362/31; it is open from 10 am to 8 pm; the nearest tram stop and metro station is Narodni Trida; ticket rates start at 100 Kč. 

 

[The story was first published in Deccan Herald as Diversity in Display on January 6, 2018.]  

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Chopin’s Warsaw

Last year, for three cold, wintry days, I found myself stalking a man. I couldn’t help it; his presence was everywhere – on benches, in the park, museums and in the churches.  

It is expected when you are a genius. A beautiful city, Poland’s capital is not as compelling or historically relevant as Krakow. But, it has Fryderyk Chopin.

The city’s most famous son wasn’t born here but his genius was discovered and nurtured in the Warsaw’s salons, churches and concert halls. It was here that he learned to play the piano, and gave his first concert when just eight. He spent the first half of his life in the city and his heart lies here, quite literally.

Today, it is possible to walk in the footsteps of the composer. Armed with a guide book and an app, I set out to discover the genius in the city that was once his home.

The churches

I stumbled onto one of Chopin’s resting places by accident. Walking along the beautiful Krakowskie Przedmieście, I take a pit stop at the Holy Cross Church. In the early 19th century, this baroque church was the largest Catholic place of worship in Warsaw.

 It was packed with tourists, who weren’t there to pray but to pay homage. They were busy admiring the church’s plain white pillars, one of which had Chopin’s heart interred within it. The pillar is simple, with a carved bust of the composer and two cherubs. The church was significant to the Chopin family – Fryderyk’s sisters, Izabella and Emilia, were baptised in it. Although the composer’s remains are in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, his heart lies in Warsaw.

Chopin played in the choir for masses held at Visitationist Church.

A little down the road is another church of importance. The 17th century Visitationist Church was built for French nuns and has survived World War II with majority of its original furnishings, including a rococo boat-shaped pulpit. It was here that Chopin played the organ – which is still intact – as a pupil of the Warsaw Lyceum. A plaque outside confirms this fact. My guidebook tells me that it was while playing in this church that he met his first love, Konstancja, who sang at mass. Needless to say, he made sure Sunday mass was quite the experience. 

Musical signposts

As I leave the church, Chopin’s Largo in E Flat Major fills the evening air, mellowing out the sounds of traffic and chatter. The source for this is a smooth cast iron black stone bench. These benches – 15 in all – are spread through the city and act as musical signposts to signify important sites in his life. There are 15 of them are spread across the city. Designed by Professor Jerzy Porębski, these benches come with a button, which plays music for 30 seconds; a route map and an explanation (in English and Polish) about the site’s relevance.

The coolest part though is that the benches have photo codes, which gave me access to an instant audio and visual Chopin guide, and other melodies. 

Saxon palace/garden

If Chopin grew up performing at the Holy Cross Church, he probably played games and took walks in the Saxon Garden; the family lived near the park. The city’s oldest public garden, it gets its name from the Saxon figures that lead up to Warsaw’s first city fountain, and a marble sundial.  

In those days, the Saxon Palace complex housed the school Warsaw Lyceum. Fryderyk’s father was a French language teacher, and the family lived in the staff quarters. It was here that Chopin composed his first pieces, with the aid of his father and teacher. The Saxon Palace was completely destroyed during WW II, only the triple arch remained. Today, the remains of the palace hold the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, dedicated to the unknown soldiers who have given their lives for Poland.

Fryderyk Chopin Museum

The Chopin museum is a four-floor structure in the Ostrogski Palace. The museum opened in 2010 and houses the largest collection of Chopin memorabilia in the world. 

Here, I get a comprehensive and interactive look into the musical genius’ life, from birth to death. The museum is multimedia – there are e-books, audio-visuals, and touchscreen options. There are games too – on one floor is a musical version of Twister, which has me jumping from one spot to another creating my own compositions. Microphones hanging from the ceiling recorded exclamations, sounds of laughter or music depending on the exhibit. Another section allows me to open drawers, which display a sheet of music while speakers play its musical notes. I spent the most time learning about the women in his life – there were many – through photos, letters, sketches and notes.  

The museum is based on the family’s collection of mementos – letters, autograph music manuscripts, books. Some of the weirder exhibits include his school exercise books, a lock of dark brown hair, a gold watch he received from an admiring singer, a gold barrel-shaped pendant with his monogram, and dried flowers from his deathbed. There is also a detailed recreation of his Paris drawing room, with the Pleyel grand paino, which he played in the final two years of his life.

Łazienki Royal Park

The Łazienki Royal Park is a stunning palace and garden complex, built in the 17th century as the summer residence of the last king of Poland. A vast expanse of trees and shaded paths reveal places of interest: a baroque bathing pavilion (which gives the park its name), the Palace on the Isle, a little White House, a water tower and an old guardhouse, among others.  

Chopin monument

Wacław Szymanowski’s monument of Chopin.

The park is home to Warsaw’s most iconic and visited structures, sculptor Wacław Szymanowski’s monument of Chopin. It shows him sitting beneath a stylised willow tree, with a Polish eagle’s head at the corner. The sculpture was erected in 1926 before being one of the first structures demolished by the Nazis. After the war, it was rebuilt thanks to an original mould, and placed on a red sandstone pedestal and basin.

Every year, concerts are held at the foot of the monument. When I visit, it is filled with tourists sunning themselves on the manicured lawns. It is easy to imagine pianists filling the park with sweet melodies in front of a captive audience, while Chopin watches benevolently from above.  

Log on to www.chopin.warsawtour.pl

 

[A version of this story appeared in the Indian Express: My heart beats for Warsaw, on January 7, 2018.]

A house for Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) was not just a celebrated French fashion designer, known for introducing the tuxedo to women and creating ready-to-wear chic. He was also possibly the only one from his generation to systematically archive his work since the creation of his couture house in 1961. The 5,000 garments, 15,000 accessories, sketches, collection boards, photographs, and objects make for an impressive collection of international haute couture. On October 3, the Yves Saint Laurent Paris Museum opened at his former haute couture house, 5 avenue Marceau, where he worked for almost 30 years. Till April this year, before becoming a museum, the space was the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent, which organised art, design and fashion exhibitions.

A walk through the museum begins with a biographical introduction to YSL in the former salons and on to the permanent galleries of the ground floor of the museum devoted to the history of his collections. The stage section has two parts — the first looks at the history of fashion through YSL’s work; the second is an intimate look at his original studio. The ground floor has a room framed on one side by a ‘wall of jewels’ and a ‘wall of drawings’ highlighting his creativity in the field of graphic arts. The tour ends in an enclosed space, the ‘mental studio’ retracing the paintings, literature and music tha influenced YSL.

Fondation Pierre Berge-Yves Saint Laurent.© Luc Castel

The studio at 5 avenue Marceau.

Heritage conservator Aurélie Samuel is the head of collections, and curator of the new museum. Here, she sheds light on what awaits visitors at the museum.

What led to the decision to turn the foundation into a museum?

The desire to create a patrimony first arose in 1964, when Saint Laurent decided to set aside certain designs after each show. In 1982, the word ‘museum’ first appeared in the ateliers’ specifications sheets for these pieces, which were kept in special storerooms beginning 1997. This legacy, composed of thousands of designs and the documents related to their creation, is unequalled in the fashion world. All these elements prompted me to reorganise the conservation of these objects, give them a status and legitimise the creation of a unique heritage museum.

The archive runs into thousands of dresses, accessories, photos, sketches and garments. How were the final pieces chosen?
The pieces of the exhibition have been chosen according to their interest for the public and also according to their state of conservation. The inaugural exhibition aims to show the themes tackled by the couturier, from the iconic to the imaginary travels, through the first collection of 1962. Two rotations will take place in order to preserve fragile pieces.

1962/PE 0007

Swatches from the Plance collection.

Do visitors get to see the entire creative process that went into designing a garment?
Yes. They are able to see the creative process repeatedly: the first time in the studio, with the presentation of the different workstations, and a second time in the educational gallery, with the films presented. In addition, the sketches, collection plates and bibles in the first room showcase a draft of the process.

What are some of the iconic YSL works on display? As someone who revolutionised fashion for women, can we expect a section dedicated to the pantsuit and women’s tuxedos?
There is a tribute dress to Piet Mondrian in the mental studio called Aesthetic Phantom, as well as other iconic pieces such as the Van Gogh jacket, Matisse dress, Picasso short dress, the Bambara, the bullfighter, the cape bougainvilléers and the Russian. From the inaugural exhibition there is a podium reserved for the tuxedo, the jumpsuit and the Caban. We are thinking about organising a thematic exhibition devoted entirely to the empowerment of women through the work of YSL.

E - Robe hommage à Piet Mondrian © Alexandre Guirkinger (1)

The tribute dress to Piet Mondrian.

HC 79 H 133

Robe Hommage Pablo Picasso.

There’s another YSL museum opening in Marrakech too. How is this one different?
The main theme of the Marrakech museum is based on the intangible link of YSL with Morocco, the country of adoption for the couturier who worked and lived there every year. The YSL Paris Museum has its own collections and the Museum of Marrakech borrows its pieces from the museum in Paris.

Will Pierre Bergé, who recently passed away, be honoured at the museum?
We will honour him through the history of the House and with the movie, An Eagle with Two Heads, devoted to the unique relationship between him and YSL. Together they established and ran a haute couture house that became an empire, with YSL designing and Bergé managing it. YSL described their partnership as “that great eagle with two heads who navigated the seas, transcended boundaries, and invaded the world with its unparalleled scope, that was us”.

Let’s go LEGO!

We walked into the museum and paused, allowing our jaws to gently drop to the floor. Ahead of us was a room filled with glass, behind which lay bricks, lovingly shaped and turned into different scenes. To the left was a section dedicated to Formula racing, further ahead were cranes and construction sites, followed by trains and  finally, other vehicles. The middle section was like a city in itself with little houses, a police station, trains, factories and little people going about their daily work. 

It was a veritable treasure trove of LEGO at Prague’s LEGO museum. 

Once we picked up our jaws off the floor, we walked through the two floors, marvelling at some of the structures, pressing switches and button that made the planes and trains move and exclaiming in delight like little children. 

Here’s what to find: 

Star Wars 

If you’re one of the millions of people who worship the cult space saga, the museum’s top floor is where you can go and pay homage. There are battleships, beloved characters and scenes from the menu. I am not a fan but was impressed at the intricacy and the detailing of the structures. My friend though, was like a kid in a candy store (he loved LEGO and Star Wars), even pressing his nose  against the glass for a glimpse of the battleships. 

 

Harry Potter

As a Potterhead, I consume the Harry Potter world in every possible form. I was excited on hearing the museum had scenes from the book and was expecting a grand Hogwarts Castle. What we did see can only be described as cute – giant spiders, Hagrid’s hut, Quidditch, the classrooms, the Gryffindor tower and the characters. None of it was inspiring enough to wow me, but I did spend a happy few minutes trying to guess the exact scenes displayed. 

 

Famous (heritage) structures 

It was all there, from the pristine white Taj Mahal, the shades of red in the Kremlin to the inspiring Golden Gate Bridge. Each structure is accompanied by small snippets about how/ when it was built and other trivia. For instance: the Taj Mahal is the biggest factory set Lego has ever made, with 5,922 bricks. 

Our favourites were the Prague monuments especially the Charles Bridge – the five meter long monument was too big to capture in a single frame and was decorated with 1000 figurines. We were encouraged to look closer and observe the minute details, find our favourite Star Wars characters/ animals in it or count the coins in beggars’ bowls. The National Museum was a two meter wide model built of 1,00,000 bricks. As impressive as it was from the front, looking at it from the behind revealed different floors, visitors and exhibits too! 

Beloved characters

The museum had many popular children’s characters, from books and television – Batman, Captain Jack Sparrow, Blue Beard and well, Barbie and Ken. 

If you haven’t had your fill of these blocks, there is a separate play room containing stations where you can create your own masterpieces. And, like us, you can also buy your fill of LEGO characters or blocks – their selection of keychains featuring characters like Batman, Darth Vader and Wonderwoman is impressive.
The museum is located at Praha, Národní 362/31; it is open from 10 am to 8 pm; the nearest tram stop and metro station is Narodni Trida; log on to Lego Museum