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April/May 1996 Issue:

To Tell the Truth?
The East German Literary Debate
By Monica Munn

    When a group of East German writers gathered in June 1990 at Schloß Cäcilienhof, author Christa Wolf rose to defend herself against a myriad of accusations. As a representative of an era, a state, and a genre of literature that had ceased to exist, Wolf addressed her critics: politicians, journalists, and fellow literati, proponents of what she later called a literary Hetzkampagne (malicious campaign).

    Wolf's story "Was Bleibt" (What Remains), describing the trials of a female author observed by Stasi agents (former East German secret police), had just been published. Although written in summer 1979 and reworked ten years later, the story's release date was interpreted as Wolf's belated attempt to redefine her past relationship to the East German state and dissuade criticism that she may have collaborated.

    Christa Wolf was one of the German Democratic Republic's (GDR) most popular and well-known writers in East and West; the Western literary world respected her especially for her down-to-earth criticism of the Socialist Unity Party's (SED) regime. Western media had often portrayed her (and other writers') efforts to improve conditions in the GDR as heroic. Thus, both the media and her reading public were disappointed by what they perceived to be a sudden attempt at justification for Wolf's former contacts with the Stasi.

    Soon after this gathering, accusations escalated quickly to encompass virtually every aspect of numerous GDR writers' lives during the SED dictatorship.

    The debate resembled a media-driven witch hunt: placed in the unfriendly public eye, Wolf, Stephan Hermlin, Stefan Heym, Heiner Müller, Volker Braun, Christoph Hein, and others found themselves subjected to a trial that questioned their past identities and moral integrity. Although known for their criticism of the SED regime, many writers were now believed to have persisted in creating the illusion of an autonomous “third way--a new form of socialism--for East Germany”, and accordingly, were held responsible for the disillusionment of GDR society as a whole.

    Charges maintained that these authors had worked almost exclusively in support of the system, claiming all the while to be in opposition to the regime; they were accused of accepting privileges as bribes for writing conformist literature, which, despite containing certain criticism of the government, had ultimately sustained the definitively undemocratic social order. And they had supposedly not been outspoken enough in supporting and defending persecuted authors.

    When the Stasi files were opened to the public in January 1992, controversial author and activist Wolf Biermann announced that Sascha Anderson and Rainer Schedlinski, writers from East Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg underground artist community, had actually been Stasi agents. Such an accusation was especially shocking because the Prenzlauer Berg scene had supposedly maintained an ideological distance from the Party and from East-West disputes.

    The Stasi had implemented a policy of recruiting authors as agents after 1979, when Biermann had been expelled from East Germany. The news revealing Anderson and Schedlinski's secret identities, especially unsettling after the Wolf controversy, only seemed to confirm previous charges against writers and to further undermine the validity of East German literature as any kind of oppositional art.

    A deluge of public charges ensued against writers whose Stasi files named them as Inoffizielle Mitarbeiter (unofficial collaborators). More than a few East German authors were suspected of meeting with secret agents to implicate their fellow writers, among them Klaus Höpke, Hermann Kant, Erich Mielke, and Markus Wolf. Most recently, author Monika Maron has been placed at the forefront of the debate, it having been revealed that she met with Stasi agents on several occasions more than 20 years ago.

    Although Stasi files document actual meetings between these authors and GDR officials and thus indicate guilt, few people other than the writers themselves, have thought to question the validity of the records kept by the secret police. Most of the accused have agreed with Christa Wolf in calling the debate "...a deliberate campaign, set to dismantle the entire body of East German literature and to discredit its authors along with it."

    Any chance for constructive discussion has been reduced to finger- pointing on both sides. In part, the resistance that Wolf and other East German writers encountered after reunification stems from the fact that West German media (and literati) had become somewhat dependent on GDR authors' oppression as justification for governmental criticism in both East and West. Yet, GDR writers were also somewhat dependent upon their Western counterparts. Those writing "oppositional" literature were almost guaranteed publication in the West and a chance to bask in (at least moderate) fame.

    Because of these advantages, East German literature was not as insular as that of other Eastern bloc countries. Other Eastern European writers who did not enjoy opportunities like those of the GDR managed to exact inner change in their respective countries with more visible results, a prime example being Václav Havel; following years of censorship and imprisonment, Havel had become one of Czechoslovakia's most revered and successful human rights activities, finally rising to his current position as president of the Czech Republic. The literary world in the two Germanies, however, shared a relationship more symbiotic than either liked to admit.

    After public disclosure of the Stasi files, the debate's focus shifted to authors' reactions to charges leveled against them; the responses of the accused were interpreted as an accurate gauge for guilt. Some, like Anderson and Schedlinski, denied that they had ever been involved with the Stasi, although evidence of his covert activities was overwhelming: he had made hundreds of audio-taped reports for his superiors, and his files explicitly named him an Inoffizieller Mitarbeiter zur unmittelbaren Bearbeitung von Feindpersonen (unofficial collaborator for the direct handling of enemies of the state), a classification that indicates specific assignments for the Stasi. Still, even in the face of facts, Anderson blatantly denied his collaborative role.

    Other writers seemed nonplused in the face of accusations. And Maron stated that "out of curiosity," she would probably still meet with agents today, as she did 20 years ago. Still others shrugged off the charges. Heiner Müller insisted that, although he had known he was being probed for information, he did not say anything to implicate any of his fellow writers. In fact, Müller maintains ambivalence regarding much of his involvement with the state. Although he wrote communist national anthems for the 1951 Weltfestspiele (world festival), he insisted that he was never a communist--it was all role-playing; he wrote the songs for money, receiving DM 300-350 per anthem.

    Excepting countries with governmentally imposed cultural policies, an author communicates individual commentary or expression through writing. This traditional bourgeois construct, in which the writer's work is separate from political dictate, stands in sharp contrast to literature emerging from the so-called people's democracies, where the artist's role in society is integral to the planned process of social growth and development.

    Under Marxist-Leninist governments, the artist faces the question of public responsibility: how to create social consciousness and contribute to the development of a socialist community. Literature loses its status as an instrument for the individual and becomes a vehicle for the collective.

    Governmental regulation of texts was a means to ensure that the Party did not lose face, neither in the eyes of its society nor of the world. Censorship of texts by way of intimidation, overt threats, and punitive measures became the means through which the SED maintained its security. The Stasi, sword and shield of the Party, was responsible for carrying out punishments: expulsion from the Schriftstellerverband (East Germany's Writers' Association) served as a forewarning of sorts, a first step before more serious measures were taken, such as loss of citizenship or imprisonment. Being shut out of the elite organization was not insignificant; writers who lost their membership were stripped of privileges such as the freedom to travel to and from the West, a fair amount of financial compensation, and good relations with the government.

    As long as authors did as they were told, they would probably not be too closely scrutinized. A writer could protest certain governmental actions with petitions or write letters directly to officials, which could, however, bring the writer under suspicion. Otherwise, authors' opinions and criticism of the government took subtle form and remained partially concealed in their texts. Even then, the Party could deem them subversive at will: it was not uncommon for persecution to be based on a Party member's subjective interpretation of a written work.

    In the last five years, it has become obvious that the literary debate does not revolve around simply these authors, their loyalties, and their written works. The writers were also put on trial because their literature was an integral part of a failed system that stood in stark ideological contrast to the Western world.

    Moreover, questions were raised about the parallels between real- existing socialism and National Socialism. From a Western perspective that included, in part, exiled GDR writers living in West Germany, authors who stayed in East Germany participated in the state's corruption. Well-known (West) German literary critic Marcel Reich- Ranicki charges that no author in the GDR criticized the regime at a fundamental level. GDR writers, were, in effect, dependent on the SED's cultural apparatus.

    Reunification left many Germans reeling from the chaos resulting from the sudden merging of two long-time, diametrically opposed political systems. Like other GDR citizens, writers had the entire system in which their identities had been firmly seated taken away virtually overnight. The critical function of their writing came to a grinding halt.

    GDR writers lost their audiences, as well as themes germane to their work. Complete artistic reorientation became a necessity imposed upon them by a public that, convinced of the clarity of hindsight, was certain the authors had been traitors.

    For many East Germans, the concept of an ideal socialist society was something to believe in during the formative years of the GDR. The time period and literature appearing immediately after World War II was characterized by liberalism, a positive outlook for the future, and complete freedom of style. Marked by excitement at the prospect of forming a state conceptually the opposite of National Socialism, this trend took the form of a backlash against the racism and brutality of the Nazi era.

    The official establishment of two separate German states in 1949 left Easterners, fueled by the prospect of independence, making preparations to create their own socialist national literature based on the Stalinist concept of socialist realism. The 1961 construction of the Berlin Wall brought consolidation to the GDR internally; ironically, despite restrictions on travel to and from the GDR, freedom of expression flourished.

    The optimism of the 1960s and 1970s was occasionally countered by governmental crackdowns designed to silence opposition to and criticism of the state. Literature and the regime became engaged in a mutually reactionary cycle; writers struggled to maintain positive outlooks regarding their government, despite the obvious constraints it placed upon them.

    The Wolf Biermann affair, however, was a turning point that shifted attitudes considerably. After living under an Auftrittsverbot (ban on public appearances) for eleven years, Biermann was finally expelled from East Germany on November 16, 1976 for staatsfeindliche Hetze (activities hostile to the state) and Angriffe gegen die Sowjetunion (attacks toward the Soviet Union). The next day, twelve writers wrote a letter of protest to SED first secretary Erich Honecker, which was also released to the Western media. In the following days, more than 100 East German authors, including Christa Wolf, added their signatures, and protests broke out in Jena. The SED reacted with suspensions from the Party, imprisonment, deportations, and the expulsion of nine writers from the Schriftstellerverband.

    Biermann's forced expatriation sparked a wave of discontent among authors, causing some of the most prominent to leave the GDR (see sidebar). Those who stayed faced the resultant government crackdown and experienced a loss of faith in the system that was to characterize the endpoint of optimism in East German literature.

    In historic terms, author emigration from the GDR is divided into three phases: before 1976, when few GDR authors moved to the West; after the Biermann affair, which caused an enormous exodus from East Germany; and the mass emigration during the 1980s, when many members of the younger generation became disoriented with GDR politics. In some cases, Western political, religious, and private institutions favoring GDR author emigration not only paid for an author's release from East Germany but continued to support the writer in his or her new beginning in West Germany.

    Nevertheless, for some in the creative corps, the hope remained that they would emerge victorious and so they stayed in East Germany.

    Wolf Biermann recently suggested in the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel that instead of excuses, denial, and silence, a GDR writer's acknowledgment of responsibility could quell future surges of Western criticism. Furthermore, he postulated that many GDR authors' failure to recognize mistakes is the reason that, more than five years after reunification, the debate still exists at all.

    Many GDR authors, however, do not believe that they should apologize; they believe themselves victims of the SED system, coerced into participation with no viable means of escape. In effect, the lack of empathy on both sides has slammed the literary debate into deadlock.

    Whatever the argument, reality no longer exists in terms of East/West or even guilty/not-guilty. Progress in the literary debate cannot occur until all concede that the time for absolutes has passed.

    Monica Munn writes from Atlanta, Georgia.

Museums with a Difference:
A Goofy World of Offbeat Collections
By Robert Thornhill

    "Museums are in." That slogan has been making the rounds in German-speaking countries since the early 1980s. The statistics are mindboggling. In Germany alone, there are more than 4,700 museums that in 1994 attracted around 98 million visitors. Many of them were built during the museum-building boom of the last decade and a half.

    The vast majority, however, are neither big and fancy nor the musty, dusty kind where sometimes you can't tell the guards apart from the objects on display. Instead, the museums deal with everything from the local history of some backwoods hamlet to the history of unusual trades or professions and odd human habits. These are symptomatic of what strikes me as a Germanic character trait—Sammlerwut, a near mania for collecting just about everything and never throwing anything away.

    Maybe the Germans—and their German-speaking cousins—are just exceptionally nostalgic. Maybe they're all just a bit eccentric. Whatever the causes, the result is astounding a goofy, kaleidoscopic world of offbeat museums—around 1,500 in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

    The list ranges from "A"—for the Apothekenmuseum (Apothecary Museum) in Heidelberg—to "Z" for the Zinnfigurenmuseum (Tin Figures Museum) in Kulmbach. In between you have such oddball collections like the Herring and Kippers Museum in Emnden, the Museum for Beauty Care Down the Ages in Darmstadt, the Mortuary Museum in Vienna, the Fire Fighting Museum in Basel, and the Swallowing Museum in Düsseldorf, which exhibits all the crazy things that criminal suspects gulped down to hide, when caught by the cops, and that surgeons subsequently removed.

    These museums all have in common a zaniness and an opportunity for great fun. To visit them all would take a lifetime; and even a mere listing would fill a book, but here is a sampler.

    "ZAM" stands for Zentrum für Außergewöhnliche Museen (Center for Unusual Museums). Unusual they sure are, and you'll find them right in the center of Munich with 5,500 square feet of exhibit space, just a few minutes' walk from Marienplatz on Westenrieder Straße, a street lined by antique and bric-a-brac shops. There are seven museums in the center, all under the curatorship of Manfred Klauda, a Munich lawyer with a bug for collecting oddities.

    Its Tretauto (Pedal Car) Museum exhibits more than 100 child-sized foot-powered vehicles that date back to the earliest days of the horseless carriage age. Among them are miniature Bugattis, Mercedes, a 1935 Buick with rumble seat, a true-to-scale Rolls Royce handmade from 1,000 parts, the yellow 1925 Citroën 5 HP that automaker Andre Citroën built for his son Miki, and Klauda's own pedal car that he got as a present when he was five years old.

    The Sissi Museum is devoted to Austria's Empress Elizabeth, the Bavarian princess and cousin of King Ludwig II, who was the wife of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph and who was assassinated by an anarchist in Geneva in 1898. It exhibits several hundred objects from and about her life, including clothes, furnishings, letters, paintings, and photos.

    The Nachttopf (Night Pot) Museum is exactly what you'd expect—2,000 potties, going back two millenniums, made of all kinds of materials, some elaborately hand painted and some once used by emperors and kings. The adjacent Bourdalou Museum is a collection of women's "wee-wee pots," regarded as luxury items in the 18th and 19th centuries, and usually hand painted at leading porcelain manufactories.

    The Korkenzieher (Corkscrew) Museum has more than 1,000 such gadgets dating back to the 17th century. The Schlösser (Locks) Museum exhibits several hundred padlocks, around 2,000 years old, including some used for chastity belts, torture instruments, and treasure chests. The Osterhasen (Easter Bunny) Museum is a collection of more than 1,000 Easter bunnies.

    Zentrum für Außergewöhnliche Museen, D­80331 Munich, Westenrieder Straße 26, Tel. 011.49.89.4904121. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission DM 8.

    Munich's Museum für Erotische Kunst (Erotic Art) closed in December 1995 and is expected to re-open at an as yet undisclosed location in Berlin in the summer of 1996. But there has been something similar in Hamburg since November 1992.

    The Erotic Art Museum, located in the heart of St. Pauli, just off the Reeperbahn in Hamburg's nightlife (read "redlight") district, was the brainstorm of 46-year-old Claus Becker, a former real estate dealer and shipping broker, who invested DM 4 million into the renovation of an old warehouse with 11,000 square feet of exhibition space for the permanent collection and another 11,000 for rotating shows. Some 520 objects, collected over a period of 50 years by a Hamburg merchant, who wants to remain anonymous, form the basis of the museum.

    Erotic Art Museum, D­20359 Hamburg, Bernhard-Nocht-Straße 69, Tel. 011.49.40.3174757. Open daily from 10 a.m. to midnight. Admission DM 15.

    The Hutmuseum (Hat Museum) in Bad Homburg near Frankfurt is devoted to what its name suggests—hats—and is the only one of its kind in the world.  It all started back in 1880 when England's King Edward VII, then the Prince of Wales, came to that spa town to take the waters and play roulette wheels at its famous casino. He took a fancy to the unique turned-up-brim chapeau that local foresters and hunters wore—part of a traditional Taunus Mountains folk costume. Edward ordered one of those local hats made for himself, took it back to England, and started an international wear style still popular with diplomats, bankers, and godfathers—to wit, the homburg.

    A couple of decades later, a local high school teacher decided that the Heimatmuseum (town museum) ought to have a collection of hats in honor of Bad Homburg's contribution to international fashion and one of its local industries. The teacher donated a few of his own, and soon hats were coming in from around the world.

    The collection today has hundreds of hats, covering more than 400 years of such headwear, many of which once covered the heads of the famous and infamous. Each is identified, and there is detailed information on the fashions and customs of the times. Women's chapeaux were added to the collection in more recent years. In addition, there are exhibits and displays that explain the technique of hat making and the hatter's craft.

    Hutmuseum, D­61350 Bad Homburg, Tannenwaldweg 102, Tel. 011.49.6172.37618. Open Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays from 2 to 5 p.m., Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Wednesdays from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.

    Nuremberg was and still is the capital of the German toy industry, so it is also the home of Germany's largest Spielzeugmuseum (Toy Museum), a dazzling collection of dolls, doll houses, wooden and mechanical toys, miniature trains, tin figures, puppet theater sets, and children's books dating from medieval times to the present. Founded in 1966, the museum has been located since 1971 in a restored Renaissance house in the city's historic old quarter.

    The biggest attraction for young and old is a vast model train layout that measures 300 square feet in area and fills almost the entire third floor. The equipment includes 37 steam and diesel locomotives, 89 freightcars, three express trains, two locals, and two snow-clearing trains. You could easily spend the entire day watching them operate.

    Spielzeugmuseum, D­90403 Nuremberg, Karl Straße 13, Tel. 011.49.911.2313164. Open daily (except Mondays) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesdays until 9 p.m. Admission DM 5.

    Furtwangen in the Black Forest is the heart of the German clock- and watchmaking industry, and also the site of a leading engineering college and training school for watchmakers and clockmakers. Linked to the school is the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum (German Clock Museum), which had its origins in the 19th century with the personal collection of Robert Gerwig, founder and first director of the college. (For more information, see also the December/January 1996 issue of German Life.)

    Today, the little museum, the exhibits of which are arranged to tell the story of the watch and clock industry, has more than 1,000 historic timepieces. Among the unique pieces on display—all of which tick, click, turn, churn, ring, ping, and let you know just how time files—is a grandfather clock that actually talks to you. Every quarter hour, a voice inside it squawks out the time. Some of the earliest clocks on exhibit, dating from the mid-17th century, are made of wood, have only one hand, and are kept in operation by stone weights.

    The "Planetarium," made by the pastor and astronomer Philipp Hahn in the 18th century, depicts the movement of the then known planets and moons of the solar system in a miniature space of just four feet diameter, while the clock dial itself indicates the minutes, hours, days, and months. Another engineering masterpiece is the "Colonial Clock" from 1900, the hands of which point to imperial Germany's former colonies; the clock bears the hopeful message from the Kaiser's time "Never the Sun Will Set on Our Empire—Our Future Is on the Oceans." There are astronomical clocks and a vast array of kitschy timepieces, like the Knödelfresser Uhr (Dumpling Eater Clock) that pushes a dumpling into a man's mouth every hour on the hour.

    Deutsches Uhrenmuseum, D­78120 Furtwangen, Gerwig Straße 1, Tel. 011.49.7723.920117. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission DM 4.

    Kulmbach in Franconia, about 60 miles north of Nuremberg, has a population of 30,000. But high above the town in Plassenburg Castle, a mighty medieval fortress, "live" another 300,000 or so—most of them barely more than an inch tall and all made of tin and other metal alloys. The Plassenburg is home of the Deutsches Zinnfigurenmuseum (German Tin Figures Museum), which has the largest collection of this kind in the world. Its origins go back to 1926 when a group of Germans founded the world's first club of collectors of such miniatures. The organization, called the German Society of Friends of Cultural-Historical Tin Figures, has several thousand members today. By 1929, one August Bonnes, a Potsdam bookseller, was drumming up support for his plan to start a tin figures museum, and the museum opened in Kulmbach's Plassenburg later that year. With Bonnes as director, it soon boasted a collection that has grown and grown.

    Well endowed by the state of Bavaria, the town of Kulmbach, private sponsors, and a nonprofit foundation, the museum is far more than a collection of brightly painted little figures. It is, in fact, a museum of mankind and human history in miniature. For all the figurines are in action, arranged in some 250 three-dimensional dioramas that fill 15 cavernous rooms  on three floors of the castle. The intricately crafted scenes depict the world of the past in microcosm.

    Since much of history has been rather martial, battle scenes predominate. One can see pocket-sized Roman legionaries fighting the forces of Carthage in 216 B.C. during the Second Punic War, Prince Eugene of Savoy defending Vienna against the Turks in 1683, or Napoleon retreating from Moscow through the frozen plains of Russia with the ragged remnants of his Grande Armee in 1812. The most spectacular display, 15 feet wide, 10 feet deep, a yard high, and comprising 10,000 hand-cast and hand-painted tin figures, depicts Friedrich der Große's (Frederick the Great's) victory in the Battle of Rossbach in 1757. The exhibit took its creator—Kurt Becker, a tin figures buff from Kassel—several decades to complete.

    But there is also much that is peaceful glimpses into the life of Stone Age men 50,000 years ago, the court of Pharaoh Tutankhamen, Tlingit Indians in southern Alaska doing a rain dance, Roman street life around 100 B.C., the entrance of Martin Luther into Worms to defend himself before the Imperial Diet in 1521, Frederick the Great giving a flute recital at Sans Souci, the flight of Count Zeppelin's first dirigible, and Sir Henry Morton Stanley meeting David Livingstone in Africa.

    Deutsches Zinnfigurenmuseum, D-95236 Kulmbach, Plassenburg, Tel. 011.49.9221.5550. Open daily. (except Mondays) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission DM 3.

    Human beings have dreamed of flying at least since the days of Greek mythology, and it was Greek mathematician and physicist Archimedes who discovered the principle of the upthrust on a floating body, which made the first attempts at flying possible—with a hot air or gas-filled balloon. The first to succeed were brothers Etienne and Joseph Montgolfier in 1783. Three years later, German Baron von Lütgendorf tried to fly in a balloon out of Augsburg, but failed because of stormy weather and technical problems. Angry burghers chased him out of town, and he made his next attempts in the nearby village of Gersthofen. In the 210 years since then, Gersthofen has developed into Germany's most important ballooning center, especially due to the efforts of Alfred Eckert, Germany's leading balloonist.

    Eckert persuaded town fathers to let him have an abandoned five-story water tower, and he turned it into the Gersthofen Ballonmuseum, which exhibits more than 1,000 objects and models dealing with the history and technology of ballooning. One of the treasure pieces is the replica of a homemade hot air balloon that two East German families used in 1979 to escape the German Democratic Republic.

    Ballonmuseum, D­86368 Gersthofen, Alter Wasserturm, Tel. 011.49.821.2491135. Open Wednesdays from 2 to 6 p.m., Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission DM 2.

    Offenbach, near Frankfurt-on-the-Main, is Germany's leather goods capital, and hosts Europe's biggest leather and shoes fair each year. Small wonder that Offenbach is also the site of the Deutsches Leder- und Schuhmuseum (German Leather and Shoe Museum). Its beginnings were modest Hugo Eberhardt, a 19th century architect and professor at the local technical college, collected leather objects as a hobby and started with a few select items. Then, because it seemed like good advertising and promotion, the Verband der Deutschen Lederwarenindustrie (German Leather Goods Manufacturing Association), headquartered in Offenbach, joined in and provided funds for acquisitions and management of the museum, which today has more than 5,000 objects and ranks as the largest of its kind in the world.

    Among the treasures on exhibit are a 6,000-year-old leather bag, decorated with a leaf pattern, in which an Egyptian doctor carried his medical instruments made of bone, the leather clothing of an Osage Indian chief killed in battle with white settlers in Missouri in 1813, and parchment figures for a Chinese shadow play.

    Because leather was used for just about everything by human beings, the range of objects is bewildering. You can see hunting and battle weapons such as leather shields, ornaments and musical instruments, boats and books, clothing and footwear. And they come from around the world. There is hardly a country or civilization not represented. There are medieval shoes, a 17th century Spanish suitcase, an Eskimo kayak, and the scalp of one of William Custer's troopers, taken by a Dakota Indian at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.

    Deutsches Leder- und Schuhmuseum, D­63067 Offenbach, Frankfurter Straße 86. Open daily Mondays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and all other days from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission DM 5.

    How long have people been papering the walls of their homes to make them more comfortable and decorative? You'll get that answer at the Deutsches Tapetenmuseum (German Wallpaper Museum) in Kassel, and it is thousands of years, if you include tapestries, carpets, and wall hangings. The Assyrians did it, so did the Babylonians, and, of course, the Romans, In the Middle Ages, walls were covered with embossed and decorated leather, richly dyed cloth, and hand-painted paper.

    It was shortly after the turn of the century that Gustav Iven, a prominent Hamburg merchant, began collecting wallpaper and wall hangings, which he first exhibited in 1911. In 1923, the collection, the basis for today's museum, moved to Kassel, where it was installed in Wilhelmshöhe Palace after World War II. Among the most unusual exhibits are intricately embossed, engraved, and dyed leather wallpapers and 16th century ones of velvet from Venice.

    Paper also came into use in the 16th century, and besides printed ones, there were those that were hand painted, often by well-known artists, depicting scenes of myths and legends.

    Tapetenmuseum, D­34131 Kassel, Schloß Wilhelmshöhe, Tel. 011.49.561.7846141. Open daily (except Mondays) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission free.

    Wilhelm Busch, writer of satirical verse, artist, and illustrator—best known for his "Max und Moritz" stories—is amply represented with paintings, graphic works, original manuscripts, and early editions of his works at the Wilhelm-Busch-Museum in Hanover.

    The ideas for the Max and Moritz pranks developed in the village of Ebergötzen, 10 miles east of Göttingen, Busch's home as a youth from 1841 to 1846. Here he met his lifelong friend Erich Bachmann, the local miller's son, whom he visited many times in later years. The half-timbered old mill house has been restored, the mill brought back into operation, and the complex, now called the Wilhelm-Busche-Mühle (Wilhelm Busch Mill), has been turned into a museum. What you'll learn on a tour is that Max and Moritz were real—Busch himself and his friend Bachmann, who played all those pranks on Ebergötzen's hapless and plagued burghers some 150 years ago.

    Besides exhibits of Busch books, manuscripts, and illustrations, the rooms in which Bachmann lived and Busch visited have been impeccably restored with original 19th century furnishings.

    Wilhelm-Busch-Mühle, D­37136 Ebergötzen, Mühlengasse 8, Tel. 011.49.5507.7181. Open daily (except Mondays) from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays and holidays starting at 10 a.m. Admission DM 4 for adults.

    A joke making the rounds in the 19th century went like this. Question Who was waiting on the shore when Columbus discovered America? Answer A cutlery salesman from Solingen. Except for Sheffield, England, no other town in the world is more closely identified with cutlery than Solingen, Germany. Pride in its heritage of craftsmanship led city fathers to establish a vocational school in 1904 "to further tasteful productivity" of knives, forks, spoons, scissors, and other utensils in 1904. Fifty years later, the collection of historical samples used for teaching had grown so large that it required a building of its own and became the Klingenmuseum (Blade Museum), with separate departments for weapons and cutlery.

    The cutlery department exhibits some 3,000 objects, ranging from a three-pronged wooden fork for cannibalistic feasts on Fiji to plastic stirrers for airline passengers, from a flint knife dated around 300,000 B.C. to graceful Art Nouveau flatware with sinuous plant motifs twining around the silver handles. Among some of the exhibition's gems are a 19th century Chinese set of ivory chopsticks in a polished bamboo quiver, a leather and silver quiver with three knives and a two-pronged fork used by a German nobleman around 1700, and a 17th century leather case containing a shallow drinking bowl, knife, fork, spoon, and an egg cup, all made of agate.

    Klingenmuseum, D­42653 Solingen, Klosterhof 4, Tel. 011.49.212.59822. Open daily (except Mondays) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Fridays from 2 to 5 p.m. Admission DM 5.

    Curious about the history, rituals, and baking techniques of bread? You will find answers to questions you may not have even considered at the Deutsches Brotmuseum (German Bread Museum) in Ulm. The museum was founded in 1955 by Willy Eiselen, a local baking powder manufacturer who had amassed a vast collection of objects, documents, and works of art dealing with bread—back to prehistoric times.

    Today, the museum, located in a residential area villa, houses some 8,000 objects dealing with bread and baking through the ages and 4,000 specialized books. Among the exhibits are a 5,000-year-old Mesopotamian bas-relief illustrating the bread-baking process, a statuette of an Egyptian bread carrier from around 1900 B.C., medieval baking utensils, hundreds of documents and paintings regarding the role of bread in religious practice, and replicas of baking methods in Stone Age times.

    Deutsches Brotmuseum, D­89077 Ulm, Fürstenecker Straße 17, Tel. 011.49.731.69955. Open daily (except Mondays) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission DM 5.

    A flick of the wrist sets them in motion Gods and goddesses, angels and devils, bold heroes and blond heroines glide through the miniature world of the puppet and marionette stage. Virtually every culture on earth knows some form of puppetry, either as a part of religious ritual or as popular entertainment for young and old. One of Germany's best-known puppet theaters is in Lübeck, and the director, Fritz Fey Jr., is also a passionate collector of puppets and everything dealing with this dramatic art. The result is the Museum für Puppentheater (Puppet Theater Museum), located in a complex of three 15th century houses just across the cobblestone street from Fey's theater.

    On exhibit are more than 1,000 puppets and marionettes from Europe, Asia, and Africa, many dating back 200 years. Elaborate shadow-puppets from India and Turkey glow mysteriously behind gauze screens, surveyed by brilliantly painted gods of the Indonesian "Wajang" theater. A staircase landing broadens to accommodate an entire stage acquired from the Winter family who, for nearly two centuries, traveled from one country fair to another with their productions. That ensemble includes 50 marionettes with 10 costume changes for each, and props, scenery, and accessories for 10 different productions.

    Museum für Puppentheater, D­23552 Lübeck, Kleine Petersgrube 4, Tel. 011.49.451.78626. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission DM 4.

    Even Germany's division, the Berlin Wall, and the grim fortified frontier between East and West have become a museological theme. A place quite fitting for a display is the village of Mödlareuth, near Hof, right on the border between Bavaria and Thuringia. The hamlet was once called "Little Berlin" because the demarcation line ran right through it, and in 1961, the East German regime cut off its section with a wall and watchtowers almost identical to those in Berlin itself. Now the city is the site of the Deutsch-Deutsches Museum (German-German Museum), where recent history comes alive.

    For Mödlareuthers, the Cold War division was not new. The village always had two rulers. In 1524, the dukes of Brandenburg and Thuringia decided to draw a border along the Tannbach brook that runs through the hamlet. Those who lived on the left bank were subjects of Brandenburg, those on the right were burghers of Thuringia. In 1810, when Napoleon redrew the map of Europe, the Brandenburg area became Bavarian, and so it remains today.

    Although nowadays Mödlareuth burghers can again visit their friends and relatives on either side of the line with ease, a 700-meter-long section of the wall was preserved, and to it were added other elements of East German border fortifications—a restored watchtower, guard bunkers, the wire mesh fence, death strip, and alarm systems. The result is an open air museum that attracts 40,000 visitors a year.

    In a nearby half-timbered shed there is another exhibit space with documents and memorabilia, including a letter from Mikhail Gorbachev and the uniform of U.S. Master Sergeant Matthew O'Connell, the last American GI posted in western Mödlareuth before the wall came down and the Cold War ended.

    The whole museum project was the brainstorm of Arndt Schaffner, a photographer from the nearby town of Münchberg, who had made Mödlareuth the center stage of a documentary film about Germany's division and the Berlin Wall in 1983. His aim in starting the museum, he says, "is to remind people of what the division was like."

    Deutsch-Deutsches Museum, D­95183 Töpen, Tel. 011.49.9295.1334. Open at all times. No admission charge.

    Robert Thornhill is a Munich-based writer.

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