Museum of local history in Beuel Bonn has lived through many pandemics

Beuel · An exhibition on epidemics and pandemics is now on display at the Museum of Local History in Beuel. The people of Bonn have not only been preoccupied by corona but have also had to deal with the plague and cholera.

Museum of local history in Beuel:  Bonn has lived through many pandemics
Foto: Rainer Schmidt

Is the Corona pandemic something new? Is the death toll exceptionally high? Is the face covering an invention of our time? Is lockdown a new concept? A disease that can come in waves - so what, it has all been here before. A new exhibition at the Heimatsmuseum, which is run by the Beuel local history association (Heimat- und Geschichtsverein), shows when, where and with what effects. The exhibition on the upper floor of the barn is called “Ver-rückte Zeiten – Mythen, Masken, Maßnahmen” (Crazy times - myths, masks, measures) and can be visited up to 10 October. Young comic artist Sebastian Jenal, nicknamed "Özi", has designed the invitation and flyer for the exhibition with impressive graphics.

“The current corona crisis was the trigger to go in search of past epidemics in history,” says Rainer Krippendorff, vice-chairman of the association. “To be precise,” says curator and deputy museum director Inke Kuster, “the exhibition came about during the first lockdown.” Children and youngsters from Beuel were inspired by a colourful stone snake on the banks of the river Rhine and embellished Rhine pebbles with their own works of art. They bear witness to the fears, hopes and desire for better times. “These stones belong in the museum,” said GA staff member Anke Vehmeier at the time. “That's how we got rich with stones,” Kuster said jokingly, playing on the German word ‘steinreich’ (literally ‘stone rich’) which means ‘stinking rich’ when translated. Over 50 of these colourful, enthusiastically painted stones are now laid out in the museum garden and along the paved paths.

Bonn was often infested

In the exhibition itself, the best-known epidemics are described on large panels. Worldwide diseases such as malaria, cholera, smallpox and the plague are among those to have left their mark on Bonn. A man with a scythe like the grim reaper welcomes visitors. The definitions of epidemic and pandemic are followed by a few statistics. By 1800, there had already been 23 pandemics, twelve in the 19th century, 18 in the 20th century and 25 so far in the 21st century. The ‘leader’ is the plague, in all its variations, with more than 100 million deaths over the years.

Visitors learn that up until the 19th century, people in Bonn were faced with leprosy, smallpox, typhus, dysentery, cholera and malaria. And also that Beethoven was ill with smallpox, and the Spanish flu came to Bonn in three waves, claiming many more lives than the First World War. Mask wearing was introduced (“Better ridiculous than dead” was the motto), gatherings were banned, mouths, skin and clothes were to be kept clean and windows were to be opened. Even the Pützchen’s Markt fair was cancelled once in 1892 because of the “imminent danger of cholera infiltration”.

The exhibition provides more highly interesting information and can be visited during the museum's opening hours, on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, from 3 to 6 pm. Visitors leave the exhibition with the conclusion that “the corona pandemic is nothing new and our politicians have not come up with anything new to reduce or avoid it”. Even syringes existed (in barbaric form) in the past. Crazy times.

(Original text: Rainer Schmidt, Translation: Caroline Kusch)

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