If you are planning a trip to Rothenburg, Germany, then on top of your list of ‘to visit’ places will most probably be the medieval crime museum. It is most famous for its large collection of torture devices and humiliation masks.
Though it is also known as the ‘Torture Museum,’ it is not like the other tourist hotspots with torture chambers and dungeons. It is more of a serious museum displaying the development of German and European legal history and the implementation of criminal justice over 1000 years.
What Is The Medieval Crime Museum All About?
The tourist visiting the medieval crime and punishment museum may find it old fashioned with all items displayed in glass cases. It has a feel of the 1970s and 80s rather than the 21st century. There are hardly any modern interactive displays though the museum does have a few media stations.
More than 5000 items are ranging from tools of torture to important legal documents. This used to belong to a private collection owned by Karl Albrecht and was housed in the tower of the castle hotel in Klostergasse.
In the early 1900s, it was taken over by an artist couple and extended and presented in the form of a museum. As it continued to expand and add more exhibits, it was moved to Rothenburg in 1977.
What Can You Find Here?
In medieval Europe, just sharing unsavory gossip could fetch a punishment of wearing a humiliation mask. Anyone interfering in other people’s business could also be punished this way. The social media shaming that happens on Facebook or Twitter is probably nothing in comparison. The masks were made of iron and had exaggerated features for specific misconduct. So, the gossip mask had long ears and even a long tongue. Many of these masks are on display in the museum. For something as trivial as baking smaller bread loves, a baker could be locked in a cage and repeatedly dunked into the water. Off-key musicians had to wear a shame flute around their necks. All these items are on display.
Horrifying But True
One horrifying section is the one dedicated to women. It showcases some terrible torture tools relating to the witch-hunt in the 17th century, in and around the Bavarian region. There is a beautifully carved device with petal-like divisions. It was inserted into the orifices of the body and then turned slowly to open the petals. It caused a lot of pressure and pain, making the victims confess true or false. Crime and punishment in the middle ages were much more brutal than we can imagine.
Visiting a grim place like the medieval crime museum may not seem like a fun activity, but it offers a good insight into the European history of crime and punishment. The museum is also situated not far from the main square and quite close to the Kobolzell Gate and Plonlein tower entrance. Between April to October are the best months for a visit to the town and the museum. If you are touring nearby, don’t miss the chance to visit the museum. A terrible reminder of the punishment in the past gone by could make you more grateful and kind.