Andreas Stanita / translated by Dorothée LanghoffJulian Beekmann

The Natural History Museum of the Palatinate

The Palatinate is quite unique. Where else would passionate nature lovers as early as 1840 put their extensive animal, plant and mineral collections together and found a society for nature conservation? Today, the POLLICHIA-Verein für Naturforschung und Landespflege e.V. society has some 2,400 members and the exhibits from that time form the core of today’s modern Natural History Museum of the Palatinate.

 

The sandstone quarry towers majestically above the Palatinate village of Grethen, which is a part of Bad Dürkheim. Below the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Höhe hill and on the shore of the Herzogweiher pond is the building of the former Herzogmühle (duke’s mill). Today, it hosts the Museum of the Palatinate, showcasing the local natural history. It is long ago that the little Isenach river propelled the water wheels here, but heavy millstones along the side of the path bear witness to the building’s eventful history.

The coffee machine in the foyer flashes. In the next room is the museum’s bright seminar room, replacing the museum restaurant that used to be here until 12 years ago. Dr. Frank Wieland gazes through the window to the pond and starts to tell the story: “The building has gone through some transformations. It was used as a restaurant and as a housekeeping college for girls amongst others. It was not until 1981 that our museum moved into the building.”

Dr. Frank Wieland, director of the Natural History Museum of the Palatinate—The Pollichia Museum in Bad Dürkheim.

Frank holds a PhD in entomology and has lived in the Palatinate since 2013. He took the post of head of the zoological department when he first came to the museum. The transition was a bit of a culture shock for the young scientist from the north. “I come from a rural area too, but Palatinate locals have quite a different mentality from locals in the district of Oldenburg, let alone the dialect that took me quite some time to understand. However, the proverbial hospitality in the Palatinate makes it easier—and it helpsif you are ready to go for a Palatinate wine instead of dry pilsner.”

The Palatinate region attracts visitors not only for its fine wine and hospitality, but also for its mild weather throughout the year. In fact so pleasantly mild is the climate that a female animal that you usually find in the Mediterranean region is native to the Palatinate—the praying mantis, that most interesting insect known to consume its mate after the act of love. “I really enjoyed that I can observe the objects that I had studied for years right on the doorstep now,” Frank explains. “And then after I had worked here for only two years, our director, Dr. Flößer, retired. I applied for the vacant position, as many others did—and to my great joy I was chosen for the post.”

The Museum of the Palatinate is sheer heaven for passionate entomologists. Its collection comprises some 270,000 insects—an enormous stockpile, whose foundation was laid by the collecting ambitions of Palatinate hobby-entomologists in the 19thand 20thcenturies. Hans Jöst from the South-Palatinate town of Annweiler was one of them. From 1902 to 1980 he gathered collections throughout the Palatinate—and he was very successful.Hans pricked about 40,000 butterflies and moths meticulously and sorted them into insect showcases.

“Young and adult visitors love the plain, charming exhibition way—even today.”

Certain parts of the museum are not accessible to visitors. It is the parts where hundreds of wooden boxes with preserved insects are piled up at a cool room temperature. Here reigns Dr. Katharina Schneeberg, the successor to Frank Wieland in the zoological department. She re-catalogues the stock of insects with extreme precision and maintains the collection assuring that insect lovers’ hearts keep fluttering in Bad Dürkheim.

However, not only the zoological and geo-scientific collections are given a polish; the entire museum is being prepared for the future. The 1,700 square-metre exhibition area will be refurbished and modernized step by step. The special exhibitions were alreadygiven a new habitat and the remediated ground floor gives you an idea of what the rest of the permanent display will look like soon. In 2008, an extension building with another 220 square metres for the museum was finished. It is now the entrance area and hosts alternating exhibitions, some of them very special indeed: ‘Alles Scheiße’ (It’s all shit) is the deliberately provocative title of a special exhibition that showcases any form of excrement in a very intelligent and creative way. Not yucky at all!

Birte Schönborn, staff in the museum education department, explains how “the museum attracts young visitors with little do-it-yourself exhibitions.” Little museum fans from across the region flock to Bad Dürkheim to participate in reading nights, research workshops und outdoor events. Some of the children are so enthusiastic that they even celebrate their birthday here. About 250 groups visit the events in the old duke’s mill every year.

After the educational programme and interactive adventures in colourful and bright rooms, some visitors to the geo-scientific exhibition rooms are somewhat surprised at the old exhibitions from the beginning of the museum in the duke’s mill. It is almost like travelling back in time to geography classes in the 80s: fossils, rocks and minerals are presented in showcases and dioramas in an ochre and brown ambience. “No, we are not at all embarrassed about the rooms, they were state of the art at that time,” Frank laughs. “The presentation may be old-fashioned, but it has its own appeal. Young and adult visitors love the plain, charming exhibition way—even today. And older visitors are reminded of ‘museumsin former times’ through this way of presentation!”

The success story of the Museum of the Palatinate is obvious: A very committed and passionate team and 450,000 exhibits from the Palatinate and the entire globe. Nature lovers of the POLLICHIA couldn’t have dreamt of a place like this 180 years ago!


www.pfalzmuseum.de