Weird and Unusual Museums

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Travel Features >> Weird and Unusual Museums

Weird and Unusual Museums

April 23, 2013

Have you ever wanted to visit museums that are interesting, unusual and maybe weird? We’ve seen the paintings and we’ve viewed the sculptures; we’ve gaped at the mummies and admired the half-ruined statuary dug out of who knows where. We've been on rounds of all the best museums- the Louvre and the Smithsonian and the British Museum and all those `must do’ museums?

Well, here’s where we begin to go off the beaten path. So here’s the gen on the museums that are different. The places to go to get an insight into the unusual. Museums that concentrate on bread, on chocolate, on gold- even on toilets. For the traveller with a yen for the offbeat, we present: maverick museums.

The International Museum Of Toilets, New Delhi

Every city has a museum of local history or an art gallery, but how many cities can actually boast of a museum dedicated to the humble loo? New Delhi can. And the International Museum of Toilets does live up to its name- it’s not just one bit of porcelain after another. Established by a Non-Governmental Organisation which provides sanitation services, the Museum of Toilets is a thoroughly `professional’ attempt at explaining the history and the evolution of the toilet.

On display are a vast number of chamber pots, commodes, bidets and what-not, from across the world and from way back in history- as far back as 1,145 BC, to be precise. Among the treasures included in the exhibits are ancient stoneware chamber pots from Britain; ornate painted medieval urinals; and even `disguised’ commodes- a French one which looks like a stack of books, and an English one which resembles a treasure chest! More practical toilets include a microwave toilet, and an electric toilet (designed in 1929), for use on chilly winter nights. On the whole, a vastly interesting and educational- if wacky- look at toilets.

The International Museum of Toilets is located at Sulabh Bhawan, Mahavir Enclave, Palam Dabri Marg 7. It’s open from Monday to Saturday, 10.30 am to 4.30 pm.

The Bread Museum, Ulm, Germany

Man definitely does not live by bread alone; a hefty dose of travelling to some interesting places goes a long way towards making life much nicer. So here’s another one for the list: the Deutsches Brotmuseum, or the Bread Museum, in the town of Ulm, in Germany. Set up way back in 1955, the Bread Museum sprawls over a vast seven-storeyed building, and gives you the dope on everything from a very highly detailed history of bread and breadmaking, to some 10,000 objects related to bread and its production. A great museum to loaf around in.

This is the place you get to learn all about bread- from the time it was first made (around 8,000 years ago) to the present. There are exhibitions, in chronological order, on the cultivation of cereal; milling; techniques of breadmaking; equipment; the sale of bread; baker’s guilds- and virtually anything else you might feel like finding out about your daily bread. There are interesting titbits on the social, religious and cultural significance of bread, too- such as the use of bread as wages, or its role in rituals and ceremonies. The objects on display range from bread ovens and bread carts to silver bread baskets and baking moulds.

The Deutsches Brotmuseum is situated at Salzstadelgasse 10, Ulm. It’s open daily from 10 am to 5 pm, except on Wednesdays, when it remains open till 8.30 pm. One note of caution: don’t imagine you’ll be able to get a meal at the museum. The Brotmuseum doesn’t stock bread; you’ll have to step outside to a local shop if you want to buy a loaf.

The Witch Museum, Salem, USA

More than three hundred years ago, in 1692, the town of Salem in Massachusetts, became the scene of one of the most horrific examples of mass hysteria in the history of USA: the infamous Salem Witch Trials. Over a period of about six months, nineteen people, most of them girls, were accused of having consorted with the devil- in other words, of being witches- and were hanged in a gross miscarriage of what passed for justice.

The Witch Museum in Salem is a haunting and painful reminder of those days in 1692, and brings back, in gory detail, the society of 17th century New England. Depicted through a series of life-size images, stage sets, sound and light effects and narration, the re-enactment of the accusations, the trials and the hangings is not something for the faint-hearted. The audio-visual presentation is staged every half-an-hour and is very accurate, although it may be a tad too dramatic for some. Besides that, there’s a smaller display on the history of witchcraft, witches and witch hunts.

The Witch Museum is located at Washington Square, Salem (Tel: 978-744 1692), and is open everyday from 10 am to 5 pm, stretching till 7 pm in July and August. It’s closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. About three weeks prior to Halloween, a special `Haunted Happenings’ festival is held at the museum- a big draw and extremely popular with visitors.

The Chocolate Museum, Cologne, Germany

Guess what `Theobroma Cacao’ (the botanical name of the cocoa bean) means. The `food of the gods’- so apparently whoever thought that one up had the right idea all along. And if you want an at- close-quarters encounter with chocolate, head for Cologne’s Chocolate Museum. Cologne, in Germany, has its attractions, and way up there on the list of the most popular sights is the Imhoff-Stollwerck Museum, better known as the Chocolate Museum.

This museum has everything you’ve always wanted to know about chocolate (and you can bet your last bonbon, there’s plenty here you wouldn’t have known before!). Starting from a walk-through arboretum, where you can actually stroll among live cocoa trees, the museum’s display goes on to a vast section on the production of chocolate. The exhibition traces the 3,000-year history of cocoa and chocolate, right from when it was used in South America as a means of payment, to its emergence as a luxury drink in 19th century Europe. A miniature chocolate factory allows visitors a peek into how the stuff is made, and a separate section deals with chocolate packaging, advertising, and vending machines. When you’ve finished your meander through the museum, get yourself a refreshing drink- of pure, gooey chocolate- at the chocolate fountain which is the highlight of the museum. Drinks are on the house!

The Chocolate Museum is situated at Rheinauhafen 1a, Cologne (Tel: 931 8880); it’s open daily from 10 am to 6 pm Monday to Friday and from 11 am to 7 pm on weekends and public holidays. Guided tours through the museum are offered in half a dozen languages, and are a great way to see the museum.

International Spy Museum, Washington DC

If all the James Bond movies you’ve watched and the John Le Carre books you’ve read have fuelled an interest in espionage and the exciting lives of agents and double agents, then head for the International Spy Museum which is a private museum established as late as 2002. The Museum archives the history of espionage across the world and has on display spy artefacts as well as School for Spies where you can sight different types of bugs and cameras and other equipment used in the world of espionage. After you have come out of the museum, the experience will leave you wondering if anything is really as it seems. Is it? Find out at the International spy Museum.

The International Spy Museum is located at 800 F Street NW, Washington DC (Tel: 202 393 7798 or 202 EYE SPY U). The Museum is open 7 days a week from 9 am – 7 pm and ticket price are at USD 18 for children and adults 12 – 64 years. Senior citizens are eligible for a discount and so are kids under 12 years. There is Spy Store attached to the Museum where one can buys all types of gadgets and spy related souvenirs to take back home.

The Fan Museum, London

The British Museum and the Victoria & Albert may be London’s best known museums, but if you’re the type with a yen for the different, try the Fan Museum at Greenwich. Displayed in two lovely Georgian buildings, the Fan Museum is one of only two such collections anywhere in the world. It’s dedicated to the hand-held fan, no longer in vogue (at least in the West), but once an important social and cultural symbol. Beginning from around the 11th century, the fan gradually acquired a great deal of significance as a status symbol and even a means of communication in the highly restricted social circles of the period.

The Fan Museum has a collection of some 3,000 fans- from across the world and from different periods- which are displayed in special exhibitions which change every four months, to help conserve the fans. Although American and Oriental fans- especially from China and Japan- are also on display, the bulk of the museum’s collection consists of European fans from the 18th and 19th centuries: beautifully bejewelled fans, lace fans, commemorative fans, and more.

The Fan Museum is situated at 12 Crooms Hill, Greenwich. It’s open from 11 am to 5 pm, Tuesday to Saturday, and from 12 noon to 5 pm on Sunday. Also a part of the Fan Museum is a shop where souvenirs, all of them centred around the theme of the fan, are available for sale.

Museo del Oro, Bogota

Ever heard of a silver standard? Or of someone with a heart of platinum, who’s worth his weight in iron? Of course you haven’t- because it’s gold all the way. For a world obsessed with this shiny yellow element, aurum or gold is really the metal. And if you want to get your fill of gold, Bogota’s Museo del Oro is the place. The Museo del Oro is the main highlight of the capital of Colombia, and ranks as one of South America’s most stunning museums. Located on the premises of Bogota’s Banco de la Republica, the Museum of Gold has a mind-boggling 10,000 and more exhibits, one of the world’s largest collections of gold jewellery and artefacts.

Stuffed chockfull of gold artefacts from all across Colombia, the Museo del Oro includes pieces of jewellery, idols, coinage, and goods used for barter- all of it crafted in gold. Among the exhibits are Pre-Columbian items, and stuff which has been dredged up from Lake Titicaca’s waters too. Some of it is crafted from an alloy of gold and copper (known as tumbaga), and a major part of the collection consists of items which were interred with the dead. The entire display sparkles and gleams so brightly that you can actually take all the photographs you want without having to use a flash for your camera!

The Museo del Oro is open to visitors from 9 am to 4.30 pm, Tuesday to Saturday, and from 9 am to 12 noon on Sundays and public holidays. If you want a souvenir to take back, pay a visit to the Museo del Oro’s shop. You won’t actually get any gold here, but there are plenty of gold-plated reproductions of the artefacts featured in the museum.

Celebrity Lingerie Hall of Fame, Los Angeles

Frederick of Hollywood, creator of such indispensables as push-up bras and thong panties, is a genius. How else do you qualify a man who was just another innerwear catalogue company in New York till he saw that the inherent potential of the stuff that he dabbled in everyday? He packed up his bags and his itty bitty packages, headed due west came to a town called Hollywood and got into the business of ensuring that whenever a star is caught with her pants down, the world has something pretty to look at.

Frederick Mellinger's store on Hollywood Blvd has been around since the mid 80s, and it's still sporting the art deco tastes from those days that privileged neon pink above all else. Check it out. The downstairs section is still devoted to retail but the upstairs is a veritable who's who of famous undies. Tom Hanks' Forrest Gump boxers occupy pride of place as does Madonna's black and gold bustier from the Who's That Girl tour. While we're on the point it's worth mentioning that when Frederick's was looted in the '92 LA riots he lost, among others, Madonna's original purple and gold contribution. This was replaced by her, eventually, with a neat quid pro quo whereby Frederick made a donation to a charity that funds mammograms for poor women. The black petticoat that kept Garbo's skirt just so in Anna Karenina is here. So are the underthings of every cast member from Beverly Hills 90210. Liz Taylor, Mae West, Cher and Tony Curtis (his Some Like it Hot bra) have all shared their innerwear with the Frederick's exhibition. There's Ava Gardner and Robert Redford too.

The address where all this is at is 6608 Hollywood Boulevard. The museum keeps the same hours as the shop. This "tribute to the stars who glamorised lingerie" is yours to see for free. And what's more, you're allowed to take pictures in the museum as long as you keep the shutter closed on the shop floor.

Vodka Museum, Moscow, Russia

Way back in the 1980s, USSR President Mikhail Gorbachov launched a highly unpopular anti-vodka campaign. A popular joke that did the rounds those days was: a man, tired of standing in line for vodka, swears he's going off to kill Gorbachov- only to find a longer line there. If you didn't think there was anything funny about wanting to kill someone who tried to outlaw vodka, this one's for you. The Vodka Museum started out in St Petersburg, but was shifted to Moscow and is now located within the precincts of the Kremlin.

For all the fans of `little water'-which is what vodka really means, this is one `must-do' pilgrimage. It's dedicated to Russia's favourite drink, and has 600 exhibits- it's a fabulous tribute to what makes a Bloody Mary bloody good and gives a Screwdriver plenty of drive. Spread out across the rooms is a vast display of stuff connected to vodka- bottles and shot glasses, posters encouraging (and, in some cases, discouraging) the consumption of vodka, advertisements, and more. Some of the earliest moonshine distillation devices- a few centuries old- used in Russia are also on display, as are hand-written recipes, jokes, comics and a detailed history of vodka, beginning with its distillation in a Russian monastery in the mid-1400s.

But the pièce de resistance of the Vodka Museum is the 'tractir' or restaurant adjacent to the exhibition halls- a neat little place where visitors can sample up premium vodka. Na Zdorovye ("Here's to your health", for those not in the know) is the name of the game here, and caviar, marinated mushrooms, pickled cucumbers and salmon are among the snacks provided to make sure you don't pass out after bingeing.

The Vodka Museum is located at 73G, Izmailovskoye Shosse, (Tel: +7 (499) 166-50-97). It's open daily from 10 am to 8 pm, and prior bookings need to be made if you want to swig some vodka at the end of your tour. Children aren't allowed in, but adults are, and pay about RUB25 for a `dry' tour and between RUB375 to RUB435 for a tipsy one.

Tteok and Kitchen Utensil Museum, Seoul
Take your quest of finding unusual museums a step further with Tteok and Kitchen Utensil Museum in Seoul, Korea. Dedicated to the favourite delicacy of Koreans -- rice cake, the museum endeavours to pay a tribute to the Tteok and also educate the young generation about this delicacy.

Housed at the third floor of the Institute of Traditional Korean Food – an important research and educational institute devoted to traditional Korean cuisine, the museum endeavours to inform the visitors everything about Tteok -- traditional rice cakes. Covering the history and the Tteok making process the museum offers the visitors a rare opportunity to taste this delicacy.

On display are Korean Kitchen utensils that are approximately 2,000 years old and ranging from ancient grinding stones to early 20th century kitchen wares along with the variety of Tteoks that is rice cakes. The items have been displayed under various themes and the displayed utensils are handmade household necessities and are essentially handmade utensils revealing the simple lifestyle of the working class of Korea.

For those who are little adventurous and love to taste different sorts of cuisine a visit to the Tteok café is a must as it offers the traditional Korean tea along with the variety of rice cakes.

The Tteok and Kitchen Utensil Museum is located at Seoul-si Jongo-gu Wayong – dong1 64-2, the museum is opened all the days from Monday to Saturday 10.00 to 17.00 and on Sundays and holidays from 12 pm to 5 pm. It is closed on Seollal which is Korean New Year and Chuseok which is a harvest festival. Visitors are advised to check the holidays prior to their visit as they are based on Korean Lunar calendar and subject to change. Admission fee for an individual over the age of 19 is 3000 won (2000 won for group tour) and ages 7 to 18 the fee is 2000 won and 1000 won for a group tour. (A group implies 20 or more)

Leila's Hair Museum, Independence, Missouri
Leila Cohoon, now a retired cosmetologist teacher, was always fascinated by hair. We suppose this is why she started collecting hair in 1949. Not weird enough? In 1989, she opened a hair museum in a small room within her Cosmetology school. Today, the museum and school are way bigger; in fact, the museum has several rooms that have hair art covering its walls, from top to bottom. Leila’s Hair Museum showcases over 500 wreaths and over 2,000 pieces of jewellery, which include locks of hair dating back to the 19th century. Here, it is interesting to see how beards, bangs, moustaches and mullets were made into funky bracelets, watch fobs, necklaces, earrings, chains, brooches, hat pins, postcards, pictures and other interesting stuff. We recommend you pop in for a visit sometime soon; after all, 'hair' today, gone tomorrow!

Located at 1333 S Noland Rd Independence, MO, the museum is open from Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 4.30 pm. The admission fee is $5.00 for adults and $2.50 for children below 12 years.

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