Medieval Knight’s Home Houses 350 Musical Instruments in One of Europe’s Most Whimsical Museums -
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Medieval Knight’s Home Houses 350 Musical Instruments in One of Europe’s Most Whimsical Museums

If you’re looking for adventure off the beaten path, then you might Europe’s most whimsical museum, which is is located in a 15th century manor that once belonged to a knight. Inside, you’ll find the manor contains enough musical instruments to be a Gleek’s dream, from tiny music boxes to room-sized organs. The museum is called Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet and it is located in the town of Rüdesheim, Germany. As a popular tourist destination for some river cruise companies, the museum is certainly a site to behold.

A 40-mile drive from Frankfurt, the Museum offers both musical and visual entertainment, all in the setting of one of the most important secular homes of the German Renaissance. The Museum is inside the Brömserhof, a 15th-century knight’s manor. The large home contains a Gothic chapel and detailed paintings inside the main hall. The building and grounds once housed the Brömser family of Rüdesheim, which may date to the 5th and 6th centuries. After the family died out in 1668, the house transferred to Sophie von Coudenhoven.

During this era, the home was painted by many impressive artists. For years, the primary artist, who depicted both naturalistic and religious themes side by side, was only known as JRVWM 1559. In 1980, the artist was revealed as Johannes Ritter von Wetzlar, who is known as Hans Ritter Doring. At the time, Doring was painting in the area, was were several of his students including his son. The walls feature plants, animals and representations of both fantasy and myth. In addition there is a room which features 32 coats of arms on the ceiling vault.

The Museum is named for Siegfried Wendel, the mastermind behind the collection. Wendel is a native of  Rüdesheim. Wendel became fascinated by mechanical musical instruments when he experienced a player piano on his honeymoon. Wendel and his wife visited a museum near Los Angeles in the mid-1960s. There the tourists from Germany examined the house, which from the outside looked like a saloon, but inside contained an arsenal of player pianos and other automated instruments. Wendel opened his own museum in 1969, but his instruments quickly out-grew the single room. Wendel decided to take his collection to his hometown, at Brömserhof in Rüdesheim. The manor is an old knight’s seat, just fifty meters away from the tourist magnet Drosselgasse.

The Museum contains 350 mechanical instruments dating back for three centuries. Many painted and small music boxes, including one with a chirping bird on top, are on display. So are much larger pipe and choral organs. There is a multitude of sheet music and perforated disks which are used to compose music. There are tools and machines that are used to make instruments like pianos and violins.

The cultural task of the museum is to research and maintain mechanical musical instruments in the scientific, technical and musical field. Siegfried’s Museum attempts to present the developmental history of the mechanical instruments completely as possible through functional instruments.

Wendel coined the term “data-storage musical instruments.” Mechanical or self-playing musical instruments function like computers. That’s why many of the instruments have a data store and a system that can then play songs. The term “data storage” seems like something from the computer age, but even the oldest data storage system, the embossed roll, works according to the same yes / no principle as the modern PC. Wendel’s collection includes hand-cranked carnival machines, gramophones and jukeboxes. The collection is so diverse it even includes a gramophone that needs to replace the needle every time it is played.

Perhaps the biggest attraction is the Orchestrion, a machine the same size as a minibus, that contains dozens of mechanical components. The first known automatic playing orchestrion was the panharmonicon, invented in 1805 to replicate the sounds of a full orchestra, from trombones to flutes.

If you take a seat on a Biedermeier chair, a soft sounding musician sounds from within. In the chapel of the Brömserhof is a two-barrel pistol to admire, which is richly decorated with marquetry. Here too, invisible ghosts are driving their trickery. When pressed, a small metal songbird bounces out of the barrels and chirps a cheerful song.

True technophiles will be thrilled to view the many machines that make musical instruments, including the ways that machines create exquisite detail on the instruments. You can also take apart the instruments and see how the are put together, with the impressive engineering that goes into producing great musical instruments.

Visitors to the Museum take a 45-minute guided tour by experienced guides who can explain the history of music, the history of the mechanical instruments and also demonstrate the music they play. The Museum is only open from March through December, so it is best to plan ahead.

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