World-class technology treasures in the industrial area

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Von: Andreas Hartmann

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Joel Fischer is curator at the Museum for Communication Frankfurt and regularly in the collection's huge depot in Heusenstamm in the Offenbach district.  Image: Monika Mueller
Joel Fischer is curator at the Museum for Communication Frankfurt and regularly in the collection’s huge depot in Heusenstamm in the Offenbach district. Image: Monika Müller © Monika Müller

150 years ago, the Reichspost, which had just been founded, began to collect everything on the subject of communication. The holdings that have survived to this day are considered to be the oldest and largest collection of this type in the world. A visit to the museum depot in Heusenstamm, a veritable treasure trove of engineering.

Only a small sign points the way to what is probably the oldest technical collection in the world. Behind a simple facade in the industrial area of ​​Heusenstamm in the Offenbach district, halls and halls full of treasures open up that are also internationally unparalleled. This is where the Frankfurt Museum for Communication has its large, air-conditioned and well-secured depot, where it keeps hundreds of thousands of pieces that would take collectors’ or dealers’ breath away if they were to browse through them.

150 years ago, in 1872, the then newly founded Reichspostmuseum began to collect. The holdings survived the end of the German Empire, inflation, bombing raids, the division of Germany and the privatization of the company. Today, stagecoaches and early telephone booths, avant-garde television sets and the world’s most important collection of telephones belong to the Post and Telecommunications Museum Foundation, which is supported by Deutsche Post and Deutsche Telekom. The non-commercial foundation has a purchase budget, but many rarities end up here as gifts when companies modernize their communications or retired postal workers sell their collections. “Many private individuals offer us something. But only five percent of that is of interest to us,” says curator Joel Fischer. In addition to Berlin, Heusenstamm is the Foundation’s second main depot, looked after by the Frankfurt Museum for Communication on Schaumainkai and filled with an estimated 375,000 objects on 15,000 square meters.

Numbers like these may be impressive, but the view from entering the rarely accessible warehouses is simply stunning. Incidentally, on Sunday, International Museum Day, there is an opportunity to explore the depots.

The first hall looks like a historic parking garage or a film studio. Close to each other are stagecoaches, old buses, motorbikes or even a bright yellow Gogomobil, which once served the postal service in West and East Germany. Electric buses from the 1920s show that a lot of things have been there before. “It was actually widespread in the cities at the time,” reports Fischer.

Further halls open up to the right and left, and the basement floors, which contain, among other things, dinosaur computers, Stone Age televisions, props for the filming of the GDR Sandman and an extensive art collection, are similarly spacious. 150 years of technological history from several German states and federal states – a lot really comes together here. Kustos Fischer, 37, who studied art history, shows the problem of sheer mass on a huge cabinet whose doors he opens.

Museum Day on May 15 – a selection

Next Sunday, May 15th, the International Museum Day, proclaimed by the International Council of Museums ICOM, is celebrated. The offer is huge, detailed information can be found online at www.museumstag.de.

The Museum of Communication at Schaumainkai 53 is one of the most interesting houses on Frankfurt’s Museumsufer, with imaginative exhibitions and perhaps the best children’s program. It is one of the world’s largest technical collections for the history of communication, from postage stamps to stagecoaches to smartphones. The huge archives in an old industrial hall in Heusenstamm in the Offenbach district are normally only accessible for scientific purposes. Next Sunday, however, the depot, Philipp-Reis-Straße 4-8, in Heusenstamm will be taking part from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with an open day on museum day. Among other things, there are guided tours, stagecoach tours and a handicraft workshop.

In the Archaeological Museum In the Karmelitergasse in Frankfurt, visitors can try board, patience and skill games from Roman times from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. A guided tour at 11 a.m. deals with the question of whether Celts lived in Roman Frankfurt. Admission is free, the guided tour costs seven euros. Registration online at [email protected]

In the World Cultures Museum , Schaumainkai 29-37, in Frankfurt, from 3 p.m., museum director Eva Raabe will lead through the special exhibition “Green Sky, Blue Grass. Colors organize worlds”. She will use examples to explain, among other things, the tasks of ethnological museums. If you would like to go, register via the museum’s online booking system: www.weltkulturenmuseum.de

In the German Leather Museum , Frankfurter Straße 86, in Offenbach, the Frankfurt designer duo Esther and Dimitrios Tsatsas will present the special exhibition “Tsatsas. Insight, review, outlook”. The museum also offers a workshop for children from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in which they can make bags and key rings. Registration is required for the guided tour and workshop (e-mail: [email protected]). Participants only have to pay the entrance fee, which is reduced by half on that day.

The State Museum in Darmstadt , Friedensplatz 1, places his mastodon skeleton, which recently returned from the USA, at the center of the museum day. Young and old visitors meet “live speakers” who get in touch with them, they can visit information stands and take part in creative activities and guided tours. In addition, the “Christian Seeger Trio” plays jazz. www.hlmd.de

In the City and Industry Museum in the city of Rüsselsheim, Hauptmann-Scheuermann-Weg 4, the museum becomes a fire brigade adventure day. Between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., local children’s militias offer play and hands-on stations parallel to the hands-on exhibition “Who runs when it’s on fire” where emergencies can be rehearsed. From 2 p.m. onwards, a show exercise can also be seen. Entry to the museum is free. lad/aph

Inside are dozens of impressive telephones from 1905 with the imperial coat of arms, each one probably the attraction of an auction or the pride of its owner. The large number of these “multiblets”, as Fischer calls them in analogy to doublets, is impressive, but also overwhelming. “We don’t lose anything,” says Fischer with a smile. All the pieces collected are preserved and cared for, and the collection employs its own restorers.

Only a tiny fraction of the items in the Heusenstamm depot, which was set up in 2000, will probably ever be exhibited in one of the Foundation’s museums in Frankfurt, Berlin or Nuremberg. At art museums, around 90 percent of the collection is in storage, at the Museum for Communication the proportion is likely to be much higher.

Custodians like Fischer and his colleagues have to choose what can be shown. “But we want to make as much accessible as possible and to do this we also use new publication options, for example on the Internet. The collection is a repertoire for all houses, it is a unit.”

Fischer is particularly fascinated by objects that relate to the people who have used them, which may show signs of wear or may be damaged. If possible, this is noted on the inventory cards of the collection. “We are very interested in the usage history. For example, we had a visit from an old lady who, in the 1950s as a ‘miss from the office’, arranged telephone calls for Elvis Presley in Bad Nauheim, among other things, and who explained to us how it all worked,” he reports. Because here, in addition to many other devices that appear mysterious, there are also dozens of switching cabinets for long-distance calls that have long since become superfluous.

Fischer, who has been working at the museum since 2017, is currently collecting mobile phones, the result of a very fruitful collection call by the museum last year. Yes, they too have become historical and collectible, and some of the stories about them could almost come from a novel. “The owner had such a sad conversation with a mobile phone that is in our collection today that her tears damaged the device,” says Fischer. “Collecting objects and their history can be very time-consuming.”

Just how rapidly usage behavior has changed in recent years is amazing. Palmtops, for example, small handheld computers, were coveted innovations not too long ago and are already antiques today.

A former Telekom employee recently brought a real rarity to Fischer: a demonstration device from 1992 that was intended to show the potential of mobile Internet. “This is a unique piece, an experimental station,” suspects Fischer. “The previous owner wants to come back and explain exactly how it worked. Something like that is a particularly beautiful moment in the life of a custodian.”

The telephone sheep are the darlings of the public at the Frankfurt Museum for Communication.  Here the restorer pulls three more through the depot.  Image: Monika Mueller
The telephone sheep are the darlings of the public at the Frankfurt Museum for Communication. Here the restorer pulls three more through the depot. Image: Monika Müller © Monika Müller