Stephan Wolf / translated by D. LanghoffManfred Rinderspacher

The memory of the Palatinate

The arrow flies towards the target… direct hit! “Almost as good as Robin Hood,” says Alexander Schubert with a smile on his face. The director of the Historical Museum of the Palatinate in Speyer lowers his bow. “I also have fun using the interactive stations,” says the museum man, “this is how history becomes vivid and something you can truly experience.”

 

The Historical Museum of the Palatinate is indeed an experience and it has been for over 100 years. It is one of the most important historical museums in Germany and has a stock of more than one million exhibits and famous finds, such as the Golden Hat of Schifferstadt, a Late Bronze Age artefact. However, it is the special exhibitions that make the museum unique: At the current Robin Hood exhibition, visitors may draw the bow and fire arrows towards a target just like in a medieval tournament of knights. This is amusement park-like entertainment for the whole family you wouldn’t expect from a historical museum. But family exhibitions have been an integral part of the programme for many years at the Speyer museum that is located at the Domplatz. And Alexander Schubert is its driving force and mint of ideas.

Director of the museum: Alexander Schubert.

Bayreuth-born Alexander has been an active force in Speyer since 2014. At the “Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen” museums in Mannheim, the 49-year-old had already demonstrated how to dust off and reinvent historic exhibitions. “I enjoy communicating knowledge in an entertaining way,” he says. Today, a museum director must be a bit of an entertainer, too. Holding a PhD in history of the Middle Ages, he has the scientific expertise, but he also possesses the marketing gene, which comes in handy in the so-called cathedral town of Speyer.

Alexander studied history in Bamberg. He began his working life in a museum there and later in Magdeburg, until Alfried Wieczorek contacted him in 2006. The director general of the Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen was keen to bring Alexander to the ‘Square City’ Mannheim. No sooner said than done, Alexander’s first task was marketing the show “Alexander the Great,” which became a box office hit. Exhibitions on the Hohenstaufen and the Wittelsbach dynasties followed. More than 600 years of history came alive in the architectural ensemble of Mannheim Baroque Palace, the Jesuit Church and the Armoury—quite an appropriate stage for such a big exhibition, involving three regions.

“Today, I feel at home in Speyer,” says the Bavarian Alexander. He has become a driving force behind the local cultural scene and has lots of connections to important stakeholders. “The Speyer museum is a site that is excellently suited to exhibitions. Visitors are guided naturally through the building and the inner courtyard with its roof invites them to rest or to attend events. A modern architect couldn’t have designed this any better than Gabriel von Seidl did over 100 years ago.” The extension part of the building from the 1990s, however, needs redevelopment soon—and will cost millions. Alexander considers the collections the strength of the museum, constituting a ‘memory of the Palatinate.’ The jewels of the collection such as the Golden Hat, the 1832 “Procession to Hambach Castle” or the cathedral treasury will be included in a new, extensive exhibition on the Palatinate’s history. Sufficient space is needed, because “I want the Historical Museum to continue to be first division,” the director says. Speyer is an attractive town of immense historical value. It is the ideal location for big exhibitions of cultural history with significance to the entire country.

“A museum is a learning environment and must therefore be tangible.”

Alexander’s very first project in Speyer was the Playmobil exhibition that had still been designed by his predecessor, Prof. Eckart Köhne, and that was extended twice and attracted 211,000 visitors. Large installations filled the roughly 2,000 square metre exhibition grounds and invited the visitors to experience and to easily tackle the historical course of events.

Great exhibitions followed: the “Titanic” exhibition attracting more than 200,000 visitors and the show “private detectives, secret agents and spies” drew about 120,000 visitors, small and large alike. The next great success was the major regional exhibition “Richard the Lionheart.” Alexander, however, does not rest. He is a forward-thinking director: “A museum is a learning environment and must therefore be tangible.” For 2018, he has designed a show for families on the most famous characters from children’s books. On the occasion of the 80thbirthday of children’s book author Paul Maar, the Sams invites its ‘fellow characters’ to the museum: Pippi Longstocking, the Gruffalo, the Little Water-Sprite, the kobold Pumuckl and the Little Vampire Rüdiger. Grown-ups can journey back to their childhood and young visitors can go on an expedition into the fantasy world of children’s literature.

Scheduled next is a show tracking The Physician in 2019, a show into the universe in 2020 and then, in 2021, it is time for another big historical exhibition: Speyer welcomes the Hapsburg dynasty. Special exhibitions are, however, only one of the many fascinating features of the Historical Museum. Its extensive collections and spectacular exhibits account for its timeless appeal—such as the famous Roman “Speyer wine bottle” with its precious content, dated around 325 AD, which is considered the world’s oldest bottle of fully preserved wine. It is somewhat the birthplace of the cultural wine history in the Rhine-Neckar region. In the wine museum, big wine presses, casks and old bottling facilities show the wine-growers’ work. The impressive and massive arbor press dated 1727 has been in the museum for over 100 years already. It was moved here when the building was set up in 1910 and as the times change, the exhibitions around it change as well—in order to tell stories for the future.


www.museum.speyer.de