Seven must-see weird museums in Austria
Austria and its capital, Vienna, have so many famous sights that it’s easy to spend a visit working through the list of things the guide book says you have to see. But it might be worth saving a few of those for next time because Austria also has a wealth of weird and wonderfully unique museums that provide a bit of a counterpoint to the mainstream ones.
In order to help you make your choice The Local has gathered seven of the best of Austria’s weird museums.
Housed in what was once the world's first purpose-built mental hospital, this is one of the world's oldest and largest collections of pathological specimens. Some of the more shocking items are not normally on public display, but can be seen as part of a specially arranged guided tour. Narrenturm translates as ‘lunatics' tower’ and the building was designed in 1783, to keep mentally ill "patients" locked up in a central facility. Now the building’s five floors are crammed full with one of the world's largest collections of medical specimens. Many of them are part of a 'study collection' used for medical training, including extreme examples of deformed skeletons and animal specimens preserved in formaldehyde.
Address: Uni Campus Hof 6, Spitalgasse 2, 1090 Wien
Inventions nobody needs
The Portable Anonymizer...
The Nonseum museum is home to crazy and useless inventions that never really took off. Located in the small village of Herrnbaumgarten in Lower Austria, Nonseum was created in 1983 by two locals, Fritz Gall and Friedl Umscheid. There are hundreds of eccentric and useless items on display, including a Portable Anonymizer that’s supposed to keep your identity a secret in real life, a folding sledge, and a Champagne Cork Catcher – so that the cork doesn’t fly away when you pop open a bottle.
Address: 2171 Herrnbaumgarten
Museum of Art Fakes
Photo: Günther Peroutka
Across the road from Vienna’s more famous Hundertwasserhaus is a small museum paying tribute to the world of forgers and fakers. The collection appears to contain the works of Klimt, Rembrandt, and Matisse, but they were all created by the hand of some enterprising forger. The museum celebrates the artistry of the forgery, and distinguishes between different types of fakery - whether it’s in the style of another painter, or replicates a pre-existing work. The museum also displays a number of forged diary pages purported to have been written by Adolf Hitler.
Address: Löwengasse 28, 1030 Wien
Museum of Contraception and Abortion
This Vienna museum holds an impressive, if sobering collection of contraceptive curios that tell a tragic tale of pregnancy avoidance and termination. Founded in 2003 by gynecologist Dr. Christian Fiala, the museum has met with both praise and controversy. Austria is a predominantly Catholic country, doctors can still choose not to perform abortions for personal or religious reasons, and there are very few abortion clinics outside of major cities. Fiala opened the museum with the goal of educating visitors about the necessity and reality of contraception. The museum houses a number of historical and bizarre forms of birth control - some of which were potentially lethal.
Address: Mariahilfer Gürtel 37/1st floor, 1150 Wien
This medieval castle built on top of a dormant volcano in Styria has a pair of museums, one honouring the famous women of the region and the other exploring the history of witchcraft and sorcery. Baroness Katharina Elisabeth von Wechsler took control of the castle and estate in the 17th century - and was known across the region as a strong-willed woman who would go to extraordinary lengths to protect her legacy and her opulent castle. One of the Baroness’s handmaidens, Katharina Paldauff, came to be known as the Flower Witch and was accused of ‘bad weather sorcery’. She was killed in the Styrian witch hunts that took place from 1673-1675. The castle is now owned by the Princely Family of Liechtenstein, with 25 out of the 108 rooms open to visitors.
Address: 8333 Riegersburg
The resuable coffin.
Vienna, home to Europe’s second largest cemetery, historically had something of an obsession with death - so it’s not surprising that it has a museum dedicated to funerals and mourning traditions. This collection of about 1,000 objects includes items designed to help out should you find yourself unexpectedly buried alive, as well as hearses, coffins, mourning attire, and a unique reusable coffin proposed in 1784 by Emperor Josef II. It was designed so that the corpse could drop through a trap door into a void below, making room for a new occupant - and saving precious wood. Not surprisingly, it didn’t catch on. The museum is appropriately located underneath the Central Cemetery.
Address: Zentral Friedhof, Gate 2 (main entrance), Simmeringer Hauptstrasse 234, 1110 Wien
The 'universal language' Esperanto was invented in the 1870s by optometrist L.L. Zamenhof. He spoke Russian, Yiddish, German, Belarusian and Polish and hoped that Esperanto would help unite the world and encourage peace. Never officially adopted by a country, Esperanto faced many fierce opponents, including Hitler who said it was a language that would be used to unite the world’s Jews. All of Zamenhof’s children and many other Esperantists were killed in the holocaust. Stalin denounced Esperanto as a “language of spies”. However, a few people did learn to speak Esperanto, including Hungarian-American investor George Soros. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI even gave blessings in Esperanto. The museum, part of the Austrian National Library, contains an impressive array of objects, from Esperanto sodas to Esperanto cigarettes and toothpaste. It also has a map of those who hold the Passaporto Servo, a system through which Esperanto speakers can travel the world and stay free of charge with other Esperanto speakers.
Address: Palais Mollard, Herrengasse 9, 1010 Wien