Monday 15 October 2012

Museum of Life Stories

I've sometimes thought my tagline could be, 'seeking out the rarest, the most wonderful and, yes, the weirdest museums in the world.'

One reason for my being in Switzerland earlier this month was to visit the Museum fur Lebensgeschichten - the Museum of Life Stories (or life histories, depending on translation).  This is unquestionably off the beaten track, and they are not particularly set up to welcome non-German speaking visitors.  So why go?

Well, in my case because I'd read about the project a few years ago and thought it was a rare and wonderful (hopefully not weird) concept for a museum.  The museum, you see, is part of an old people's home and its exhibitions are devoted to telling the stories of local residents, past and present.

To get to the museum, I took a train to St Gallen and then a local train/tram to Speicher, a village with views of Lake Constance.  The museum is not particularly well signposted (I wandered around several times, seeing no one and nothing to guide my way) but finally I found it:

My first thought was: they had a really good interior designer.  My second thought was: I've never thought that about an assisted living facility before.  My third thought was: whatever they're having for lunch smells really good.  (Repeat thought #2) 

The complex includes housing, the museum, a very nice looking Italian restaurant which was where the residents seemed to be lunching (smart waiters!  wine!) and several exhibition spaces.

The main, ground floor space featured the work of Hans Krusi, a former inhabitant of the village (& possibly of the home but my Swiss-German is not of a standard for me to draw any firm conclusions).  He featured cows in lots of his work (of course!) and there were also works done by local schoolchildren, inspired by him.

 There were also iPods loaded with reminiscences,

and these elegant, stripy Tim Burton-esque chairs to lounge in while listening.

Beside the restaurant was the Erinnbar (roughly translates as remem-bar), where people could smoke, drink coffee and look at exhibits and books relating to the history of the area.  No idea what the spinning wheel is for, but I like it.

So.  In terms of design, collections, interpretation, this museum is not pushing any boundaries.  But in terms of creating a social space where older residents of the community can interact with visitors, where their lives are celebrated and valued, where there is a constant and natural flow between outside and inside (as opposed to the home feeling isolated and its residents irrelevant) this project is extraordinarily innovative.

This was one of the most life-affirming museums I've ever visited.  Every community should have a project like this.

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