It's not strictly for the birds: upstairs you can gain, as the Bamberg Natural History Museum's leaflet puts it, 'an overview of the different phyla of the animal kingdom, beginning with the lowest and ending with the highest organized living species'. But what hits you as you enter the blue, white and gold early neoclassical Vogelsaal are the birds: European in and above the central cases, exotic around the walls.
The history is a little confusing as applied to the exhibits. The Nature-Cabinet was founded by enlightened Prince-Bishop Franz Ludwig von Erthal, pictured above with ancestors and stones beneath him, as a source of wonder for the ordinary Bambergers - almost too late, since secularization soon spread to the left of the Rhine in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars. Bavarian troops marched in seven years after Franz Ludwig's death and the 'independent ecclesiastical principality of Bamberg' was no more. Franz Ludwig, incidentally, did make far-reaching reforms in education, the legal system, care for the poor and health: I had the good fortune to be staying in what in 1789 was the most modern hospital in Europe.
In 1803 another collection, from the Banz monastery, was moved in to the Natural History Museum and Father Dionysius Linder raised the collection to a whole new level. Throughout the rest of the century, mostly under his successor Andreas Haupt, the focus on avian species led the hall to take the name 'Vogelsaal'.
Let Winder add some flavour:
The cases themselves are a monument to a specific, pretty neo-classical moment in design that enjoyed pyramids, bobbles and high little galleries [one could add the putti and the gold busts of naturalists ancient and modern]. Everywhere there are stuffed animals, skeletons, piles of hedgerow birds' eggs [hence the section title, 'A glass pyramid filled with robin eggs', which again may be slightly overegging the pudding]
...The room requires no soundtrack; so many historical spaces need sprucing up with some mental Bach or Mozart, but the stuffed creatures and the delicate architecture chase off that kind of extra, as though you have come through to the exact, silent heart of Enlightenment idealism.
I also like Winder's delight at the way the 'stolid purpose' of the Prince-Duke's practical museum is underlined by 'fun extras' like 'a glass obelisk of hummingbirds' placed at one end of the room.
Upstairs it just gets wackier. I'm not sure what the order is in the combination of grinning stuffed monkeys and stones in the vestibule - maybe higher and lower orders represent both the start and the end -
or the rather mangy, lonely stuffed lion on top of a cabinet full of skeletons
but out in the upper gallery
you turn left for invertebrates first - sponges and cnidaria like coral,
before moving on to fish at the south end, below a portrait of (I'm guessing) Andreas Haupt
where old and new labels mix in delicious confusion, and on to amphibians and reptiles: frogs and toads
and snakes in jars.
Let Winder take over again for the 'Pomological Cabinet', 'wax models of all the edible fruits of Franconia (accidentally preserving just how small fruit used to be)'.
These strange masterpieces were designed to cut through the wilderness of folk names for different kinds of plum and pear and establish a definitive name and definitive appearance. Some of the fruit are somewhat damaged, with holes in the thin wax both destroying and enhancing the illusion of exact ripeness and desirability. They were made in the 'Landes-Industrie-Comptoire' of Friedrich Justin Bertuch in Weimar between 1795 and 1813, and the fact that most of the cultivars have been lost adds to their ephemeral quality.
On the way out of a room I was very reluctant to leave, I descended the staircase past antlers attached to early 19th century model deers' heads
and out in the courtyard there's a splendid old black walnut tree.
Life is all around the Natural History Museum in the Inselstadt, enlivened by the presence of the university and its students. The lively Grüner Markt is still the place of choice for fruit, vegetables and flowers, here attracting a couple of nuns in front of St Martin's Church
while a place where I spent several happy hours, surrounded by folk of all ages, none of them on mobiles or laptops (was there a house rule?), was the Cafe Müller.
Its clean white lines reminded me of our dear friend Marta's favourite in Vienna, the Cafe Prückerl. I could get just as attached to this place if I lived here - and while Berlin might make more sense for a life, I can imagine the bürgerlich perfection of this place would be fun for half a year.
Anyway, there it is, a post I've been wanting to put up for months. Too many bright ideas come and go under pressure of work, but I feel I still haven't done extraordinary Bamberg full justice despite the Arts Desk piece, the little Hoffmann homage and this. Cathedral and riverside still on the list, but they may have to wait some time.