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

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📍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