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November 2002

Fowl Play

On a free day or while shopping-a visit to the Hunting and Fishing Museum is always worthwhile

Most of us walk past this building, if not daily then certainly weekly without giving it a second glance. Though children will often stop to rub the snout of “Porcellino,” the bronze boar at the entrance, the Deutsches Jagd- und Fischereimuseum (German Museum of Hunting and Fishing) must, at least in the foreign community, be one of the least-known museums in Munich. This is a shame because the building alone—a former church and an integral part of Munich’s history—is worth visiting, to say nothing of the exhibits.

The story of the museum begins in 1290, when Duke Ludwig the Severe of Regensburg called monks of the Augustinian order to Munich and built them a monastery and church just outside the city walls. The church survived the great city fire of 1327, and was probably visited by Martin Luther in 1511, but by the 17th century the building was considered outdated and in 1620 renovations to the interior were carried out in the Renaissance style. It is the high, arched nave and the white stuccowork that were part of this face lift—the basic structure of the building remained unaltered—which will no doubt strike the first-time visitor on entering the museum. In 1804 the church was secularized, used as a toll house and consequently allowed to fall into such a state of disrepair that by the end of the 19th century it was decried as a municipal eyesore (Schandmal). After a long and vehement public debate in 1909 about the fate of the church, in which Gabriel von Seidel and other members of Munich’s artistic community pitched themselves against the municipal government and the local population in favor of maintaining the building, it was decided that the church be restored and used as part of the new police headquarters. In addition a row of shops were added on the periphery of the building, thereby creating additional income for the local government.

In the meantime plans were afoot to establish a German hunting museum. Bavarian foresters were the driving force behind the idea and there is evidence in the hunting journals of the time—an issue of Wild und Hund in 1911 mentions a “Reichsjagdmuseum”—that the idea was much discussed. But despite having the tacit support of Kaiser Wilhelm II, himself a keen hunter, the project was slow to get off the ground. It was not until 1938 that the first museum was opened in a north wing of Nymphenburg Palace, only to be closed again a year later at the outbreak of war. The museum was not allowed to reopen on the same premises after 1945, but after a long wait the Bavarian government agreed to give the Augustiner church over to the museum in 1958. Restoration of the war-damaged building was completed in 1964, when the museum finally moved to its present address.

Exhibits at the hunting and fishing museum are displayed over three floors. On the top storey is the Weisser Saal (White Hall)—essentially the top third of the church—which houses an enormous collection of hunting paraphernalia. Anyone stepping in from the prosaic milieu of the Neuhauser Strasse must breathe a sigh of delight when confronted with so many beautiful handmade objects. Arranged in white and gold glass cases are rows of guns inlaid with ivory, carved powder horns and soft leather hunting pouches, and set into the walls of the stairwell miniature hunting scenes show brightly colored tin figures galloping along painted backdrops. As befits a hunting museum there are plenty of stuffed animals and though this may not be to everyone’s taste there is one group of animals that can be stroked (especially designed for children and people with impaired vision).

The floors below offer hours of study, where visitors can wander from one diorama to the next learning about wildlife—how many people know that in the 1880s disease killed almost every fresh-water crab from France to the Ural Mountains?—or look at a carefully reconstructed Bavarian hunting lodge. There is a fascinating cornucopia of fishing-related objects, including some carved mother-of-pearl fish counters laid out on their red velvet bag that once belonged to the English king Edward VII. And even a case full of the infamous Bavarian Wolpertinger, a local, mythical animal, part deer, part rabbit, part duck. The hunting and fishing museum is not a high-tech play station designed to satisfy the experience junkie but a venerable and well-documented display of everything associated with hunting, the most ancient profession known to man.

Deutsches Jagd- und Fischereimuseum, Neuhauser Strasse 53, Tel. (089) 22 05 22. Open daily from 9.30 pm to 5 pm, Mon. and Thurs. to 9 pm. <<<

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