Choco Story📍Brussels

Happy Monday!

One of the best museums I’ve ever visited is the Choco Story in Brussels, telling the history of chocolate from cocoa bean to shop chocolate and everything in-between. Opened in May 2014, the Museum is the collaborative effort of 2 families who wish to promote quality Belgian chocolate through this educational, fun public museum.

Upon arrival, visitors are given a choclate shaped guide (above) which can be used to listen to audio around the museum using scanning QR code type technology. The first room is set in Amazonian as the cacao tree is native to the Amazon Basin. The room focusses on the cocoa bean: where it is found, what it looks like and introduces you to King Pakal, the corn god, who was found in a tomb in Mexico. Did you know? Cocoa was used over 5500 years ago and back then, the beans were as valuable as blood!

The next section takes us to Mexico where we are introduced to the value and different uses of cocoa beans. In the past, cocoa beans were used as currency due to their high value; for example 1 bean = 1 tomato, 10 beans = 1 rabbit. This really does embody the phrase that money grows on trees! Some brilliant objects included a molcajete (a chocolate grinder made from volcanic stone), beautifally decorated jicaro bowls and molinillo, wooden/corn cobs used to froth chocolate drinks.

Next up, we travelled to Spain where objects included sugar pliers, chocolate instruments and ingredients used in the spanish hot chocoate recipe. Then to France where a collection of intricate and beautiful drinking cups were on display. Artefacts including Mancerina cups, trembling cups and chocolate pots made from china, copper and silver showcased how chocolate cups have changed over time to ensure an enjoyable drinking experience across Europe.

From France, the musuem moves into the Tropics where visitors learn more about the history of chocolate and the topics of cocoa trading, exportation and sustainability. A large gallery wall with an accompanying film explores chocolate from growth to shop. The museum also higlights Cacao Trace – a fairtrade, mutually-beneficial programme that builds upon the farmers’ local knowledge and expertise and empowers them to be more productive and sustainable.

From here we travel to Europe where the story moves on to look at chocolate through the 1800’s. With an array of chocolate making equipment on display you get a great insight into how much technology and engineering has moved on since the 19th century.

The final country we visit is Belgium – a great finale seeing as the country produces arguably the best chocolate in the world! There is a brilliant collection of chooclate moulds used for all kinds of occassions as well as old, extremely rare vending machines that were used as ‘savings boxes’ by children throughout the 1920’s.

To top it all off, there are two interactive chocolate stations – one where you can watch chocolate being made by a chocolatier, the other where you can taste different types of chocolate. A delicious final touch to a fantastic museum exploring one of the most popular foods in the world. The whole musuem is a brilliant sensory experience – with smell buttons, tasting stations and audiovisual spots dotted throughout each exhibit.

If you Visit Brussels, Choco Story is an absolute MUST! Although a little difficult to find – it is inbetween Mannekin Pis and The Square (the entrance is in an archway along the street connecting the two). Not only is Choco Story beautifully displayed, it is an absolute gem filled with interactive stations and sensory delights.

Happy Museum Musings!

Em xo

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Mind the Gut 📍Medical Museum, Copenhagen

Happy Thursday!

During my study trip to Copenhagen I fell in love with the Medical Museum. Its current Mind the Gut exhibition is a collaborative show created by three artists, two scientists, an architect, a graphic designer and the Museums’ curatorial staff. Opened in October 2018 and located in the newly refurbished basement rooms the exhibition examines the intricate, complex and often misunderstood relationship between the mind and gut.

Merging the fields of art, science, history and medicine, the exhibition looks at the interconnectedness of emotions and physiology, mental health and diet, the brain and inexplainable ‘gut feelings’.

The exhibition starts with a monochrome film; created by artists using movement to explore and represent the complex relationship.

The exhibition examines how doctors, scientists, historians and artists have attempted to study and explore the complex relationship between mind and gut. It is a puzzle that has occupied us for centuries and is a recurring topic in many disciplines with the development of contemporary science, fashionable lifestyle trends, and debates about the nature of health and treatment. Curator Adam Bencard says “we challenge the typical division of brain and gut as two isolated organs and open towards new understandings of the body as consisting of complex, interwoven systems”.

My favourite section was the interactive Pill Machine created by the phenomenal artist Mogens Jacobsen. The installation plays with ideas of diagnosis and treatment with visitors using an embedded RFID coin & engaging with 8 input-stations to answer questions related to body, emotions and environment. After submitting answers visitors input their coin into the vending machine & receive a ‘prescription’ and ‘medicine’ (sweet/gum) to help the illness! My treatment advised me to drink rum & milk before getting out of bed which I can definitely get on board with!

Another great engagment section was #DigestMTG where visitors were instructed to pick a postcard which stated an emotion of the front. On the reverse, a question was posed. Visitors were asked to answer the question and place the cards in the postbox. These were then scanned onto a projector screen showcasing the answers.

Mind the Gut won the ‘Bikubenfonden Exhibition Award Vision 2015’ which is awarded for outstanding exhibition concepts. Two of the installations in the exhibition have been supported by the Danish Art Council.

Happy Museum Musings!

Em xo

📍Medical Museion, Copenhagen

Happy Friday all,

My trip to Copenhagen was absolutely made by visiting this magnificent Medical Museum – so much so that I visited it twice during my 4 day trip!

I’m a massive fan of a Medical themed museum and an regular visitor to The Wellcome CollectionThe Hunterian MuseumOld Operating Theatre to name a few but this visit was next level for me for a few reasons. Firstly, the Museum is housed in the former Royal Academy of Surgeons – a building which is a current candidate for inclusion in UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The stunning auditorium, in which doctors were trained until 1942, is the stunning architectural heart of the Museum. Designed by Peter Meyn, the room is neoclassical in style with hints towards antiquity whilst the ceiling is based on the roof of the Pantheon temple in Rome. Leading medical personalities Galen and Hippocrates adorn the walls whilst reliefs depicting Asclepius, Athena, King Christian VII and Frederik IV are also featured.

Secondly, during the study trip we were able to get an exclusive behind the scenes look at the collections work being undertaken by conservators at the Museum. We ventured into the stores with Ion Meyer, Head of Collections where we met 3 Conservators that are currently working on a large scale documentation and digitisation project that is happening across museums in Copenhagen. Hearing about the project goals, challenges and successes thus far – as well as seeing some pretty cool hidden gems (including the box of 19th century drugs below) – was a great addition to the visit.

Finally, the Museum has utilised, it seems, every bit of space available to them so that no space is left as ‘nothing’. There are light installations in corridors, art pieces in alcoves and medical instruments filling shelving units. I’ve always been a collector – any spare space in my room is filled with nick-nacks, souvenirs or useless pieces of paper that I promise to “stick in my scrapbook”. So when I walk around museums and see areas of nothingness it makes me feel a little annoyed. On average only 5% of museum collections are on display at any one time (unbelievable I know!) so SURELY something could be displayed to fill the voids. The Medical Museum proved that this is something that can be achieved effectively without the objects or installations being damaged, at risk or feeling out of place.

In the next posts I’ll write about the 2 current special exhibitions on at the Museum; Mind the Gutand The Body Collected, again two of the best exhibits I’ve seen.

Happy Museum Musings!

Em xo

Masterpieces of Taxidermy 📍Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin

Hi all,

There are lots of fantastic museums around the magnificent capital of Germany; particularly in Museum Island. But if you venture about 20 minutes outside of MuseumInsel, you will find Museum für Naturkunde. The Museum is integrated within the Leibniz Association – famously one of the most important research institutions in the world for biological and geological evolution and biodiversity. Over 800,000 visitors get to experience the wonder of this spectacular natural history museum and I feel very lucky to have visited this year. Natural History collections are my absolute favourites because I love seeing how nature has developed throughout history, the similarities and differences between species and the ways that biology, geology and taxonomy can be explored in museums.

My favourite gallery by far was named “Masterpieces of Taxidermy”; where unique specimens are displayed and the museum gives a great insight into the inner workings of a natural history museum. The gallery displayed a huge range of taxidermy specimens alongside highlights of preparation cases which showcased how different species are prepared for display or storage. The Museum für Naturkunde is a leader in the field of taxidermy preparation with professionals at the museum developing innovative methods, sharing best practice through workshops and setting high standards for other institutions.

The gallery, as the name suggests, exhibits examples of masterful taxidermy prepared in Berlin. Bobby the Gorilla who had died at Berlin Zoo in 1935 is still regarded one of the best examples of taxidermy in the world. Prepared by German taxidermists Karl Kaestner and Gerhard Schröder, Bobby is still a highlight specimen for visitors 80 years on!

Another spectacular display is the model of a Dodo, an extinct flightless bird that was native to the island of Mauritius. Taxidermists’ used biological model building to reconstruct the Dodo, a technique traditionally used specifically for extinct species. The model was created by Karl Kästner in 1949 who used basic information collected from other skeletons, observations and drawings to recreate the realistic model. The body was  created using clay and plaster whilst the feathers were a mixture of chicken, duck, sawn and ostrich feathers.

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Personally, my favourite set of displays explored the preparation of a Dickhornschaf: a Bighorned Sheep. The cases showed the full process from reconstruction and stuffing to design, make-up and display:

I think its really important for museums to be as open, transparent and educational in every aspect that we can. Opening up access through displays and interpretation enables visitors to gain a better understanding into museum practice and the activities involved in running the spaces they come to visit. When we visit museums I think it is usual to absorb what is on display without really thinking in depth about how displays have been curated, how taxidermy artefacts are preserved and the work that goes on behind the scenes. “Masterpieces of Taxidermy” really opens up the field of taxidermy and gives a world class insight into how natural history specimens are prepared for our learning and entertainment. The gallery is a real showstopper in this marvellous Natural History Museum.

My next blog post will explore some of my object highlights from the Museum so keep an eye out!

Until next time, happy museum musings!

Em xo

📍Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin

On day 2 of my stay in Berlin I ventured out of Museum Island and to the Museum für Naturkunde to visit my first Natural History Museum of my trip 💚 Although it is a little out of the way from Museuminsel I think it’s definitely worth it.

It is housed in a similar building to the NHM in South Kensington, London. Made of Portland-esque Stone, decorated with animal statuettes (and it’s equally as huge). The entrance is also similar, with the looming dinosaur skeleton centrepiece (although I know Dippy is on tour around the UK).

The interactives in the main hall were really cool (see above). Look into the binoculars and the dinosaurs come to life; showing you what they would have looked like and loved like when they were on earth. I thought this was a really great addition as it is difficult to imagine what these skeletons would’ve looked like roaming the earth so to actually visualise it was pretty mind blowing 🦖🦕

In the museum, there were two rooms that really stood out for me and I actually squealed with excitement when I found them! First, the spirit jar display room! (My favourite museum subject) and my goodness it was the best one I’ve ever seen.

The jars, filled mostly with sea creatures and reptiles and are showcased on shelves from floor to ceiling. What is great is that these could have been in storage or behind closed doors but the Museum have chosen to allow them to be on show, despite a working room being in the centre, so that visitors can experience such a phenomenal collection.

My second favourite gallery was the taxidermy room. If you know me, you know how much I love taxidermy and natural history! The room was different to anything I’ve ever seen before as it explains how taxidermy collections are created.

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Each display case documented a different style of taxidermy including:

  • The reconstruction of extinct animals
  • The skeleton collections
  • The bellows and fur collections
  • Bird skin collections
  • Impression of a fish

As someone who loves taxidermy specimens I think it is so important to understand the processes that go into creating the specimens that you see on display. Breaking things down can help visitors to learn better and I certainly learnt so much from this room. It also supports people’s understanding of how decisions are made for each specimen – what materials can be used, how it can be stored or displayed and what conditions need to be thought about when acquiring natural history objects.

This museum is a really great example of a natural history museum that is a vital educational resources for a variety of audiences. They have spaces in the upper galleries for school groups and I can see why – the place is the perfect space for young visitors and teaching the school curriculum.

Happy museum musings,

Em xo