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A museum about man – the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum

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You’re probably familiar with Dresden’s splendid baroque old town. And with Saxon Switzerland, the area of natural beauty that offers excellent hiking just a short train ride away from Dresden. But while you’re in town, there’s another highlight you shouldn’t miss: a visit to the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum. The museum is impressive even from the outside. In front of the entrance is a larger-than-life figure of an Olympic athlete about to throw a shot put. The vast foyer is bright and glass-walled. So is this museum about sport or about hygiene? The name is admittedly misleading. Perhaps a quick look at the museum’s history can help. It was founded in the early 20th century to teach people about hygiene and health. So it’s about hygiene! But the museum quickly became a place that presented the human body and its anatomy. That was unique and a global sensation.

When you enter the first room of the permanent exhibition you will understand immediately why the museum has been astonishing its visitors for 80 years. This is where you’ll find the “Transparent Man”, a three-dimensional life-size model of a human being made of glass, allowing you to see the skeleton, the internal organs, the blood vessels and nerve tracts. The exhibition room presents the history of anatomy, shows how a hand changes if it is subjected to too much radiation, and invites visitors to philosophise on the ideal human form.

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The permanent exhibition covers a total of seven themed rooms focusing on the Transparent Man, Living and Dying, Eating and Drinking, Sexuality, Thinking, Motion, and Beauty. Every room contains exhibits you are unlikely to find anywhere else. You can see inside a cell, follow human development from foetus to infant through life-like models, examine an iron lung once used for artificial respiration, and guess various smells. To keep things interesting, every room contains different ways to interactively explore the museum. You can experience how it feels to no longer be able to see or hear properly in old age, or test your coordination in the Motion room.

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Agnes Cseh visited the Hygiene-Museum as part of a scholarship holders’ meeting in Dresden. Agnes is from Hungary; she is 30 years old and came to TU Berlin in 2010 to study mathematics. The foundation organised a guided tour of the permanent exhibition; participants were also able to visit the museum’s other exhibitions if they wished. “The name of the museum didn’t sound all that interesting before I visited”, Agnes says, “but the exhibition speaks for itself”. What she liked most was the combination of interactive objects, which are also exciting for children, and detailed descriptions and background information on the exhibits. She was particularly impressed with the second exhibition room with its displays on pregnancy and birth. “You could watch a video that showed mothers and fathers holding their babies in their hands for the first time. I found it very moving.”

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