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Brush-making to bread-baking: experience historic German trades hands-on

Did you know that brush making has historically been a trade for the blind? At Hagen's outdoor museum, visitors can go back in time, forge hammers on anvils, eat tradtiionally baked bread and learn about German history.

Did you know that brush making has historically been a trade for the blind? At Hagen’s outdoor museum, visitors can go back in time, forge hammers on anvils, eat tradtiionally baked bread and learn about German history.
At the entrance to the outdoor museum, parents of small children can take advantage of small wagons that the little ones can ride in. The facility spans 2 kilometers – which can be a long way for kids’ legs.

The outdoor museum in Hagen is the only one in Europe that focuses exclusively on traditional handicrafts. Most similar museums, by contrast, present traditional lifestyles and the living conditions in former times in a particular region.

The Hagen museum, founded in 1973, is largely dominated by its 24 “living” workshops that stretch out over an area of 43 hectares. Whereas the city of Hagen is located in the middle of Germany’s most densely populated state, North Rhine-Westphalia, the museum was constructed in a rather idyllic environment in the surrounding forests.

Inside a metal smith’s workshop

The hammer mill usually attracts numerous visitors – thanks to the rhetoric talents of smith Stefan Austermann. He impresses his audiences with his knowledge of the Greek deity Hephaistos, the god of fire and metal.

As the parents laugh nervously, he tells the kids in his audience to misbehave, saying that loud hammering should by all means be allowed at home. He adds that his own parents, after all, also had to suffer. Austermann also reminds his astonished audience that noise created by children is not against the law.

He goes on to criticize Germany’s Chamber of Commerce and education system, reminding the museum guests that handicrafts may be historic, but they also hold current value. As he speaks, Austermann sticks pieces of iron into the fire, forging and hammering them before examining the final outcome with a critical eye. “The smiths were the educated elite among the craftsmen,” he says proudly.

A total of 35 craftsmen are employed at the historic workshops in the Hagen outdoor museum. The craftsmen not only explain the tricks of their trade, but also present themselves as ambassadors. The workshops are not unusual, but represent the breadth of the trades that used to be practiced in the local region.

On average, 18 of the 24 workshops are open on any given day. Walking around the small tindered houses, guests can hear all kinds of noises, like hammering, forging, fizzling, sizzling and whooshing.

Touching is allowed

Visitors who succeed in moving their kids passed the distracting water playground, climbing garden and the restaurant are rewarded with a beer garden and schnapps distillery. That’s also where the most popular attractions can be found – a scythe and a rope-making factory.

What most visitors to the outdoor museum in Hagen seem to appreciate is its remote location, far away from the city.

The museum is visited daily by roughly 1,000 people, while special events attract up to 3,000 visitors. During the holidays, it’s mostly families, whereas during school terms, entire classes come to get a hands-on history lesson.

“I try to involve people in conversations,” says Arif Özen, who has been working here for eight years. No more than six people fit into the tiny workshop where he produces brooms and brushes. The visitors are invited not only to look, but also to touch them.

“Oh, how soft,” exclaims a little girl as she touches a small broom used for sweeping away spiders.

“That’s Chinese goat hair. It’s the only kind that’s soft and long enough,” explains Özen patiently. When he talks about the qualities of his brooms and brushes, Arif knows what he’s talking about. The 30-year-old only has 5 percent of normal vision. The production of brooms and brushes has always been a trade especially well suited to the blind, since they develop an extraordinary ability to sense things with their hands.

A little something to take home

To remember their visit, visitors can purchase Özen’s little brushes, but also beer, fresh coffee and other products from the workshops in the museum’s gift shop. The bread baked on site is the bestseller and usually sells out by early afternoon.

The museum is financially well situated and doesn’t depend on gift shop sales to survive. It even has plans to develop new workshops. Until then, wagon rides are still one of the top highlights.

Topics: German museum

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