the museum is closed – thus it is now catagorized here under lost places
The text below, now slightly abridged and adapted, was originally written after my visit to the museum several months before the unexpected closure. Consider it a reminder, or rather an 'obituary': What was it? Hamburg
's 'sewer museum', housed in a working sewage pumping station, was more a weird than a dark attraction, really. Although in a quite literal sense a dark element was included too, because it's more than a museum: a glimpse into the dark depths of the underground was included in the tour … More background info:
For many years employees of Hamburg
's waterworks/sewers have collected items they found in the city's sewer system and which they deemed interesting enough to go in a collection that they eventually put on display.
This collection was then turned into a kind of small-scale semi-public museum. However, visits had to be incorporated into educational tours giving insights into how the public services of water supply and wastewater management in the city of Hamburg
work. The place was run by the company responsible for this, so they had an interest in such public relations efforts. Today, however, this has been transferred to a new modern museum called "WasserForum" ('water forum' – or 'experience'). But as this lacks the darker aspects, it was not deemed worthy of an entry of its own here. What there was to see:
(…and smell …) The bizarre collection of items in the museum part proper included dentures, various toys, glasses, identity cards, tools (including a hammer and a sickle – which in the display were cheekily arranged in the old Soviet
style) and all manner of clothes. Female underwear was disproportionately represented – reflecting a predictable bias in the invariably male sewer workers' selectivity.
Before you could actually see the collection, though, you had to sit through an introductory lecture, given by an employee of the water treatment company. In this talk the basics of water sourcing, water treatment, and sewage disposal, etc. were outlined. Much of this was clearly geared rather towards school groups than tourists. Nevertheless, there were some interesting things to be learned too. (For instance, I didn't know that the solid residue of sewage can be compressed into an extremely hard and sturdy kind of 'rock', used for example on the river Elbe's embankments to prevent erosion. In the Q&A session after the main talk I asked whether that doesn't run the risk of dissolving harmful chemicals in those rocks – having been made from sewage waste – into the river, but only got the "officially" reassuring, and thus not entirely convincing answer that they're taken to be "harmless".)
After the rather long introductory talk and Q&A session, you got fitted out with a protective helmet, and then led down, first to the museum, where our group spent about 10-15 minutes. Then it was down to the real thing: the sewer. First you walked through a short iron tunnel leading to one of the system's main screening rakes (where many of the items in the museum's collection will have been fished out).
Beyond lies a chamber at the confluence of two of Hamburg's main sewers. In the past this was the spot from which boats departed on inspection tours into the sewers.
Before you ask: it was less stinky than you'd expect. OK, rose petal fragrance is not to be expected either, but my apprehensive expectations of far worse a stench were not fulfilled. It was really tolerable.
Before visitors were allowed to enter, however, everyone had to sign a declaration saying that you've understood the health warnings they gave you (to let them off any liability). These mainly concerned the comparatively minor risks involved in being in a confined space where there is raw sewage (unless you have any special health issues, these can normally be ignored), and, more precisely, the instruction not to TOUCH anything other than the railings. (… but then again, how likely is it that you would want to rub your hands along those grimy walls in here anyway?) As another safety precaution we were required to wash our hands thoroughly after the tour.
The tour finished with a glimpse of some further separating machinery, then we were spewed back out onto the street and the (at least comparatively) fresh air …
All in all the tour lasted about 90 minutes. It was free of charge, though advance booking and joining a group was required, so access was already rather restricted.
What's become of the exhibits in the little museum, which was located at the western end of the Landungsbrücken complex, I cannot say – my enquiry regarding this was not honoured with a reply. I fear it may be lost for good.
- Sielmuseum Hamburg 1 - museum entrance
- Sielmuseum Hamburg 2 - tour meeting point
- Sielmuseum Hamburg 3 - into the museum
- Sielmuseum Hamburg 4 - exhibits
- Sielmuseum Hamburg 5 - dressed in sewer finds
- Sielmuseum Hamburg 6 - towards the sewer
- Sielmuseum Hamburg 7 - sewer
- Sielmuseum Hamburg 8 - a bit spooky
- Sielmuseum Hamburg