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What does a museum need to attract your interest?

I like this blog from Samantha Brown about her 6 favourite museums.

What caught my attention though wasn’t her choices but her comments in the opening paragraph:

“Tourists come as much for the experience of the museum as they do to
see the exhibits. Here are 6 magnificent museums that are an
unbeatable experience inside and out.”

Modern architecture in some of the examples she describes isn't really my thing. I love museums for the historic stories they tell and it's even better if the structure is part of that history. I haven’t been to the Louvre yet, but I’ve always wanted to go to see it as a former Royal Palace…I’ll probably stop and say hi to Miss Lisa while I’m there, but it won’t be the purpose of the trip.

Of those that I have seen, here's a few that make me stand up and go Wow.

Oradour-sur-Glane for the raw emotion of what Nazi evil can do. It’s an open air museum and so maybe not always considered in the museum category but It may be the only museum I’ve been to that tugged at me with feelings of sadness and anger.

Warwick Castle for childlike thrill of seeing a classic castle and running the ramparts and climbing the turrets.

Hockey Hall of Fame. I was consumed by hockey 24/7 while growing up and I’ve always loved the history of the game; It makes me wonder if this is where my passion for history came from. Rare is the time when I visit that something doesn't give me goosebumps.

This is a short list off the top of my head. But I wonder how high on your list do you rate museums as a place to see? What does it need to be to attract your interest? Which museums float your boat? (note to self-visit the Viking ship museum in Oslo).

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6496 posts

I love visiting museums! And yes, the Viking Museum in Oslo is very worthwhile to visit.
A few favorites of mine are the Metropolitan Museum of Art and MoMA in NYC, Mauritshaus in The Hague, The Netherlands, Thyssen in Madrid, Tile Museum in Lisbon, Shanghai Museum of Art, British Museum Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and so many more. I liked the Guggenheim Bilbao more for the architecture than the collection.

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12245 posts

First and foremost, the subject matter of the museum attracts my attention and priority. Mostly, in Europe I go after history museums that pertain to modern European history, especially those focusing on esoteric topics.

What prompts me to revisit once, twice or repeatedly the museum is obviously the subject matter but also the way in which it is presented, the size of the museum, how comprehensive it is, eg, the explanations , what they stress, or omit, etc. The exhibits, the realia are also important to see and revealing.

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38 posts

The Holocaust Museum in Los Angeles. Allan, just as the Oradour-sur-Glane (which I've had the privelage to visit), it brings a visceral response to the horrors of Nazi evil. What amps this Museum up is, when you enter, you are given an ID card with a child's name and picture. You then follow their journey through capture, degradation, cattle car travel, arrival at a concentration camp, unspeakable horrors, and then inevitably, death. These are prebooked times entries, and the group you enter with stays with you for the journey.
You cannot leave this Museum unchanged.

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5604 posts

An “ oh my “ when I walk through front doors or entry plazas.

Happened in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum seeing the Sprit of St Louis and the Apollo 11 Space Capsule hanging from the ceiling. How small both were took my breath away.

At the Kennedy Space Center walking beneath a Saturn 5 Rocket Booster.

In the early 90’s discovering The Rodin Museum in Paris after I saw my relative’s tomb in Dome De Invalides. While walking about the Rodin museum spying a small Van Gough painting hanging on a wall. No plaque identifying it.

Seeing Dippy the Dinosaur skeleton ( no longer there ) in London’s Natural History Museum as well as the architecture of the building.

Grand Hall of the National Building Museum in Washington D.C.

In high school seeing The Thinker outside the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.

In junior high school touring San Jose’s Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum with mummies in the lobby.

And my favorite are-you-kidding-me-moment occurred while visiting the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in 1972. No one else there as I strolled into the room where Rembrandt’s Night Watch hung. I obviously hadn’t paid attention in art history class. Totally stunned by the size of the painting. This was before the whack job took a knife to it so you could walk right up to it. Rembrandt’s understanding of light and shadow pure genius.

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2020 posts

Claudia, I agree with you about The Night Watch at the Rijksmuseum. I first saw it in 1976 and no one but my sister and I were there. The size blew me away, as did the subject matter. I prefer paintings of people. I saw it again in 2017, all cleaned up and much brighter, but just as amazing. A lot more crowded.
My favorite though are Enthographic museums. I love to see how people designed and decorated their homes and went about their everyday lives.

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4825 posts

I live museums because they have art, history or something special of interest.

Some of my favorite museums:
1) All the Smithsonian museums in Washington, DC (Air and Space, Natural History, The Red Castle, Art museums, etc.)
2) The Lourve
3) The Vatican Museum
4) The Uffici and Accademia in Florence.
5) Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
6) Archaelogical Museums in Athens and Istanbul.
7) The new Acropolis Museum and original Acropolis Museum in Athens.
8) The Chinese Mueseum with 1001 Horses in Taipei, Tiawan.
9) The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia.
10) Natural History Museum in Boston and in NYC.
11) Vasa Museum in Stockholm.
12) Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
13) Holocaust Museum in Washington.
14) Museum for Terracota Warriors in Xian, China

Still haven't been to the British Museum in London, that is no 1 on my list

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3522 posts

So much to see and learn, so little time. I've been thinking about my favorite museums and the list is too long to put here.

I go to museums to learn about something I know nothing about, to learn more about things I know a little about and to test my knowledge of or preconceived notions about what I see.

I love it when a piece of art I thought I'd dislike turns out to be way better than I expected. I love it when something I just knew I'd love is so much better in person than the pictures I've seen. And I'm disappointed when something I thought I'd love turns out to be mediocre or boring.

With history museums, I seem to be drawn to ones with stories to tell more than those that just concentrate on things from past eras. However, I do enjoy collections that feature domestic life of all kinds. There are many open air museums that show how people accomplished all the tasks of living that we do so easily today. After all, if those people hadn't been successful at those tasks most of us wouldn't be here.

Here are a few favorites, all in Europe and in no particular order.

Dutch Resistance Museum in Amsterdam. Makes us look inside ourselves and ponder what we might have done at the time.

Our Lord in the Attic Museum in Amsterdam. The Dutch prohibited the Catholic religion in the 1580s. This entire Catholic church hidden in the attic of a 17th century house dates from 1663. It became a museum in 1888, making it the 2nd oldest museum in Amsterdam, but mass is still held there on Sundays. Fascinating.

Guggenheim in Bilbao. I went there primarily to see the building and the pieces outside.

Guggenheim in Venice. Loved seeing the collection and being in Peggy's house and imagining her living there.

Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens. Covers the ancient civilizations of the Aegean and Cyprus, with special emphasis on Cycladic art of the 3rd millennium BC. Love this stuff!

Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris. One of those places where what I saw and experienced was beyond all expectations. I could sit and absorb the Water Lilies for hours.

Reina Sofia in Madrid. I could also sit there and look at Picasso's Guernica for hours, if that was possible.

Yes, I do enjoy smaller museums in terms of physical size, collection size or historical coverage.

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643 posts

Another great discussion topic Allan.

I loved the comment from Lo: “I go to museums to learn about something I know nothing about, to learn more about things I know a little about and to test my knowledge of or preconceived notions about what I see”.

I will add one more reason and that is to connect emotionally with the art and artifacts in the museum. One of the most powerful experiences for me is when I visited the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid and viewed Picasco’s Guernica. I had studied this in art history, but nothing prepared me for the shear emotional power of this painting in person. When I travel, I continue to seek out museums that challenge and move me. I loved the suggestions in this post and will add many of them to my future travels. Thank you all so much for sharing.


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1822 posts

What amps this Museum up is, when you enter, you are given an ID card
with a child's name and picture. You then follow their journey through
capture, degradation, cattle car travel, arrival at a concentration
camp, unspeakable horrors, and then inevitably, death.

Wow, Susie, I can't imagine. What really affected me at Oradour-sur-Glane was a tunnel as I was exiting that has photos of every victim that they could find of the massacre. Realizing that the Nazis didn't even spare children was horrifying.

I'm always looking for new things to do in LA. This one is on the list. My wife can be a bit of an ostrich though when it comes to places like this. It may be a solo visit.

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3322 posts

One of my favorite museums is the Pasteur Museum in Paris. We were a small group of about 10 and when the guide quickly figured out my sister and I knew little French, she kindly did her presentation in English as well as French. The original lab equipment and the family apartment were so interesting.

This museum was not on the main tourist trail. Anyone who came to it had a genuine interest in science. We had time and opportunity to learn, see the exhibits without crowds, and interact with locals. Win,win,win.

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219 posts

If I buy a city pass that includes a bunch of misc museums, I'll do my best to see a bunch of them. But to get me to make a special trip to a specific museum, there has to be something spectacular. Like David at The Accademia in Florence, or The Hallucinogenic Toreador at The Dali Museum in St Petersburg FL, or Bernini's The Rape of Proserpina at the Borghesi in Rome, or Raphael's The School of Athens at The Vatican.. Those are the works that blow me away. Yes, I know, I'm really not going out on a limb with those!!!

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7875 posts

I like history museums that are in cities, especially if they cover multiple eras. Quirky, unusual museums attract me, like the Leather Museum in Frankfurt Offenbach. Some artwork, but ancient sculptures draw me more than modern art. Certain genre are interesting. War museums if they are done in an interesting fashion. Rows of swords don't cut it. The Green Vault in Dresden was magnificent but after a couple of hours, the over-the-top glitzy items almost became mundane. They had lost their uniqueness because there were so many of them. Archeology museums are cool if they are done right. I find the Judengasse museum in Frankfurt to be very unique because it is one of a kind, the only museum built on top of a medieval Jewish Ghetto and it is well done. It didn't use to be interesting, but after a rehab, now it is. Seeing Nefertiti in Berlin was a highlight, but now I wonder if they should give her back? Fire fighting Museums are great. Alcatraz was one of a kind. Loved the Evolution museum in Burgos, because it too was done with great thought and care.

Maybe we should distinguish between museums that are built to be museums and buildings that contain history because the building is historic? Is a bombing bunker that offers tours and shows you where people ate and slept a museum? Are the Underground Vaults in Edinburough a museum? What about Versailles?

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3789 posts

I visit museums for their content. If it happens to be housed in something beautiful or interesting, then that is a bonus. Usually I am so preoccupied with the expectation of seeing X, that I don't give the surroundings their due. At some point I will rest my eyes and brain to pay attention to my surroundings and then I may find myself pleasantly surprised. I have found that due to the external business, and a lower interest in modern art, the Pompidou in Paris doesn't interest me.
I still mourn the loss of the Handbsg Museum in Amsterdam. A beautiful collection, but also a historical house that made it a double reason to visit.

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2129 posts

More and more, we are drawn to "ethnographic" museums which document the folk cultures of the country. Bucharest has a good example, as does Budapest (Hungarian Agricultural Museum) and Dubrovnik. All are worth spending time in. In Frankfurt Germany, we enjoyed the Archeology Museum. We came without money, and a kind German fellow paid for our admission. Next time in Frankfurt, we will pay that forward.

Of course, we also like the traditional art museums. The recorded tours are getting better and better. The Alte Pinotek in Munich, the Art Museum on Hosek Ter in Budapest both had great recorded tours which expanded my understanding of the history of art.

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2485 posts

My favorite museums are Capitoline in Rome, Acropolis Museum in Athens, Anthropology Museum in Mexico City, Orsay in Paris, Field Musem in Chicago, and the Prado in Madrid.

All are big, major museums. I’d like to be cool and have some tiny hidden-gem type pick, but I don’t. I like museums and always have a few on my list, but they aren’t usually my number one priority.

I like stellar collections of important art/artifacts, with interesting exhibit design. I like art, natural history, and anthropology museums, not so much into history museums (with some exceptions), military, royal palaces, or niche topics like a museum of toothbrushes (I don’t think that exists, but I would not go to it if it did).

One thing that is great but obviously not possible everywhere is views or tangible connection to the topic. Like the view of the Forum from the Capitoline or of the Acropolis from its museum. Or where you can see excavations of artifacts under the museum or its grounds.

Also large scale exhibits - like the temple inside the Met, or the one in the Capitoline.

Cool architecture is a plus, as well. The train station setting adds something to the experience of the Orsay.

I like the big picture, I like learning the forest instead of individual trees. Many museums like to show artifact upon artifact but don’t really pull it together into the whole, which is not a criticism but a difference in style/preference.

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12245 posts

Museums I have seen in France, Austria (Vienna, Linz) and Germany have at times or regularly two types of exhibits, the special exhibit and the permanent. I mean here the history focused museums.

That's another draw for me to check out the special exhibits in terms of repeated visits to a particular esoteric museum.

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905 posts

We were lucky to visit the Van Gogh Foundation in Arles during a special exhibit of Van Gogh there in the summer of 2016. They had about 30 pieces whose homes are typically elsewhere. There was hardly anyone else in the place, and we could get within inches of the paintings. It was a happy accident to be there at that time and have the inclination to take the train to Arles for this. It will probably always be my most memorable "museum" experience just because it was unexpected and, for some reason, his art is meaningful to me in a way most isn't.

Another that I especially remember is the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Everything in the region is museum-worthy, but the collection at the museum is (to use a terribly overused word) amazing.

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1822 posts

Many museums like to show artifact upon artifact but don’t really pull
it together into the whole, which is not a criticism but a difference
in style/preference.

I want a museum to tell me a story. If it's just room after room of objects behind glass without a clear message, then it can be a building loaded with stuff instead of treasures. The British Museum is popular to many, but I found the presentation in many areas to be quite dull. On the other hand I found the Museum of London to be fascinating with its chronological history of the city.

The Pont du Gard is an impressive bridge but honestly was just a photo-op until I visited the museum which really pulled the day together for me.

I loved the Vatican Museum, but only because of our tour guide and her stories about the stories behind the art. Is the Vatican a well-done museum for the average person, or is just a bunch of paintings and sculptures scattered in a huge building? There are no stories within the walls unless you come prepared.

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1822 posts

Nick, I'll admit we were only there for a day and didn't have a well planned plan of attack but it struck me as a glass display with a dry explanation of what I was looking at then move to next display and repeat. We only visited the Egyptian and Numismatic collections, so we will be back the next time we are in London as I especially want to see the Sutton Hoo collection.

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1915 posts

I love the British Museum and have to go there every time I’m in London. I guess I’m not very sophisticated but I don’t have strict requirements for museums or any other sights to live up to my standards. I approach museums and other tourist places with an open mind and hope to learn something new. I see myself as a student. I don’t put pressure on myself to love every art masterpiece or any of them but I learn something from each outing to a place.

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2129 posts

Why go to Greece if you can go to the British Museum? Even the Greeks agree. The "Acropolis Museum" in Athens has more spaces for things in the British Museum than it actually has pieces from the Acropolis

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668 posts

Going to museums, both famous and tucked-away, is a big part of our travels.

Rather than offering a too-gigantic list, I won't count as museums any painting or sculpture galleries, churches full of art, monumental cemeteries, Roman or Greek ruins, castles or palazzi, or the open air museums that gather together old houses and fill them with artifacts of everyday life (like the ones in Reykjavik, Stockholm, Arnhem in the Netherlands, & the Weald & Downland in West Sussex).

Imperial War museum in London --- I once spent two days here & in its library because of my somewhat odd interest in the WWII British homefront.

Car museum in Torino --- Despite my husband's and my near total lack of interest in cars, we both loved this museum. There were only about two other visitors, so that was nice, but the exhibits were just wonderfully creative (like a whole kitchen and several life-size animals made out of car parts) & there were historical films with vintage footage.

Egyptian museum in Torino --- One favorite part was the 2nd floor open walkway above the main exhibits with, yes, old-fashioned GLASS cases displaying lots & lots of the same thing, like the hundreds of little clay laborers buried with people to do all the work for them in the afterlife plus even supervisors so that while dead someone doesn't even need to bother with managing workers. That made us laugh.

Vatican museum --- Our single worst travel experience by far. We thought that in early January it would be less crammed with people but instead we found that ALL of the rooms we planned to visit were closed because staff were still on vacation. To make matters worse, we were trapped in an incredibly dense and fast-moving crowd of people being herded up & down stairs and through the hallways to the Sistine Chapel. We wanted the museum!

Capitoline museum in Rome --- An underground passageway connects the two halves of the museum. Everybody just hurried through it without even glancing at the exhibit on ancient Roman lettering that lined both walls & we almost did the same. But we could see tombstones with carved inscriptions & some rather strangely had little dogs or footprints on them. We luckily had lots of time, unlike many tourists. So, we stopped to look more carefully.

We ended up reading every one of the translations of the carved epitaphs. Some were bragging (a charioteer's: "He came in second place 130 times; third place 111 times; he won 1,558,346 times"), some were funny ("I never pronounced offensive words"), many were tender, and all offered far more individual details than modern tombstones. Several were in the first person like this one:

"For the souls departed. For sweet Geminia Mater. My name was Mater, but I was never destined to become a mother. In fact, I do not deny having lived only 5 years, 7 months and 22 days. During the time that I lived, I enjoyed myself and I was always loved by everyone. In fact, I had the face of a little boy, not of a girl; as only those who generated me knew Agathe, of gentle temperament, of pleasing and noble appearance, with red hair, short on top and long behind. Now all of (you) offer me nice drinks and pray that the earth does not weigh heavily on my remains. Do not despair too much about the remains of my little (body), Faventius, who raised me more than my parents and who loved only me. In fact, I have a mother and a father who preceded me some time ago and never grieved over (my) destiny. I also have a sister by (my) mother Amoena, who is also saddened by my death. Please, everyone comfort my family, (reminding) them of the pleasant life (that I lived), reciting prayers so that (their) pain does not increase and their sadness does not exceed the limits. You who read, if you wish to know my whole name will know Geminia Agathe, which premature death stole and brought at a tender age to Tartaro. This is all, more cannot happen: this (is foreseen) for us."

Love museums!

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648 posts

Old, detailed paintings; artifacts or archaeology related museums; if time, history related museums.

I had read about Lindow man before I saw his remains in the British museum.

The Borghese gallery in Rome would have been a better experience if I had paid more attention to m the artwork and less attention to the tour guide. Next time I go, I am going without a guided tour.

I didn't give myself enough time in the Capitoline museum in Rome because I was in a hurry to get to a guided tour; looking back, I think I paid too much n attention to the tour guide instead of to what I should have been seeing. Next time I am seeing sites and museums without guided tours.

The Jewish museum in Amsterdam occupied me for 3 hours, longer than I thought it would. The Jewish museum in Athens only took not much more than about 20 minutes of my time; the Jewish museum in London, England occupied me for at least 2 hours.

The Wallace Collection in London, England (old metal body armor, old paintings and furniture from about the 1600's to 1700's), occuopied me for almost 4 hours. The place is underappreciated or unknown to the uninterested drive-by tourists.

Often just having the word "archaeology" in the name is enough to attract interest. The archaeology museums in Rome and Florence, were almost deserted when I was there.... i didn't give myself enough time to see the Egyptian collections... to be fair a lot of the collections seemed to be pottery... I am not hard core enough to look to closely at every pot, I don't have much interest in old pottery compared to old paintings, except that i still have just minimal knowledge about artists and works... but people who know less than I do think I am so smart if I just drop a few names of artists and what they did...

Any (good) artwork that is old, maybe more than 150 years old, is automatically special because it is old. Anything made too recently is not special. I feel this intuitively without being able to rationally explain why.

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1822 posts

Maybe we should distinguish between museums that are built to be
museums and buildings that contain history because the building is
historic? Is a bombing bunker that offers tours and shows you where
people ate and slept a museum? Are the Underground Vaults in
Edinburough a museum? What about Versailles?

I guess we could go back to one of my original question;

What does it need to be to attract your interest?

Does it need to be something built to hold historical objects? To attract my interest it can be that or one of many other things. Maybe Oradour-sur-Glane is more a memorial than a museum. Admittedly when I visited I don't think I would have classified it as a museum, but this definition of types of museums have me a broader understanding of how many kinds of museums there are.

A museum, or memorial, or historical place of interest, I think they all have their rolls under a broad definition of a museum.

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12245 posts

"Is a bombing bunker that offers tours where people ate....a museum?" Most definitely, I know of one such place in France. It is in the city hall in Arras, a city in northern France that gets no US tourists, visitors at all.

The underground is a museum showing where the British military slept, worked, etc in WW1 since Arras was the command center , the GHQ, for the BEF (the British Army in France). You can only access this underground by a guided tour given only in French. I took this tour in the late 1900s, didn't understand very much at all at the time but that wasn't the purpose.

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1529 posts

You have to expect something before entering a museum and in several cases the smaller ones were for me surprisingly interesting and spent more time as planned. Like to mention:

The Otto-Lilienthal-Museum in Anklam, Germany. Otto Lilienthal was an inventor and did a lot of groundbraking research about airplane aerodynamics at the end of the 19th century and made the first well functioning hanggliders. He did about 2000 testflights before getting mortaly wounded during one of them in 1896. The Wright brothers made a lot of use of his knowledge and did flights with his hanggliders too before building their (and being the first) airplane the Flyer. The museum was for me not only interesting about aerodynamics and aviation history itself but also the man behind his work comes alife there and shows he was a very unique personality actually as interesting as his inventions.

MuseoParc Alésia in Burgundy, France. It’s about the siege of hill town Alésia in 52 B.C. by the Romans under the leadership of Julius Caesar. I have walked around with double feelings as it was very cruel what happened there, but the museum shows how well organized the Romans were and with the genius and determination of Caesar they conquered Alésia. It was a very close call and very well possible the Romans were defeated and certainly their leader wouldn’t have survived it. So "IF" this would have been the case should have the Romans lost their appetite conquering Europe all the way north to the rivers Rhine and Danube or would the Roman Empire later only kept limited to the banks around the Mediterranaen Sea. What would have happened with European history if their at that time advanced culture remained there and their religeous influence of the Roman Catholique Church too? Can you imagine for instance no Gothic Cathedrals, like no Notre-Dame in Paris, no Reformation too. What would have become of Europes cultural, political and geographical landscape from then on and with that the world too? That were the thoughts I had on that very spot, very thrilling.

Bauhaus Dessau, Germany. With the uprise of the working class in the 19th and early 20th century there was a need of cheap housing, easy to build on a massive scale, but how do you do that if it had to be attractive too? The same for products. Under the supervision of Walter Gropius a radical new way of design was introduced. Before that products were made to function in the first place and decoration added to make them attractive. Under the influence of architects like Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright and for instance the Dutch art movement De Stijl / The Style in Dessau the principal of Form Follows Function got an even more pure widerly spread dimension and influence (Less is More). And so the way objects and houses / buildings were designed changed for good and shaped much the world we live in today. A lamp fitting has a clear fuction, but well formed, polished or chromeplated it’s in the same time beautifull to look at too. Thanks to what I have learned in Dessau I enjoyed my visit to the Barcelona Pavillion very much a few years later, €5 well spent. If you don’t like modern buildings or design maybe a visit there can change your mind, it’s not without reason a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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1529 posts

Karl-Marx-Haus in Trier, Germany. It’s about the man that as everybody knows had a huge impact on modern history and his influence is still very noticable today. In the (not only) 19th century the working class, men and women were exploited horribly, most had to work long hours under poor conditions for wages barely enough for a decent living. However their influence just by the sheer number was growing, no wonder people wanted to organize themselfves to improve their lives and so Socialism and Communism was born. Karl Marx played a pivotal role and even as Communism was and still is embraced by dictatorial regimes it’s absolutely worth to get a deeper insight about the historical background of the ideology and the man who created it. The museum explaines this extensive and to my opinion very well.

These are a few museums I felt connected with the past and proved more interesting as anticipated.