The Hessenpark Open-Air Museum can be found in the middle of the Taunus Mountains. Exciting insights into rural and small-town life in the Hesse of bygone days await museum visitors – from furnished houses to exhibitions and demonstrations. Spread over 65 hectares of open land and in over 100 historical buildings, visitors can experience how people used to live and work. In addition to its unique collection of Hessian half-timbered architecture, the open-air museum offers a direct insight into everyday rural culture – true-to-life history in a living museum.
Insights into former ways of life
Eleven of the 113 half-timbered houses in the 65-hectare Hessenpark Open-Air Museum are complete reconstructions of the former originals. The remaining 102 were rebuilt in the open-air museum from their original location, where they could not be preserved due to urban development. They all tell stories of daily life from the 17th century up to the 1980s, with real protagonists such as Rhön sheep, Vorwerk chickens and other rare breeds of domestic animals. Five groups of buildings provide insights into typical regional settlement forms with residential and farm buildings from central, northern, eastern and southern Hesse as well as from the Rhine-Main region. Since 1974, the open-air museum has housed its carefully selected and attentively maintained witnesses to history as a living memory, and continues to expand the portfolio even today. Natural building materials play an essential role in this – because part of the goal is to save the historical building fabric itself as well as to enable energetic retrofitting and modern living inside the buildings. For interested builders, there are even seminars and workshops on the renovation of old buildings with clay earth and natural building materials.
Performances and exhibitions
Strolling through the grounds, one can definitely get lost in the authentic details. This is exactly what the museum is known for: It invites visitors to walk in the footsteps of our ancestors who lived far more simply and authentically than we do today. This authenticity can be experienced with all senses. Walls sometimes feel warm, sometimes cool, depending on the building’s use. The wood of church pews or school benches is smooth. The air smells of hay, floor wax, and earth. One can almost hear the splashing of the stone fountains, the crackle of a fire in the cast-iron stove, or the clatter of dishes just before supper. Some buildings are furnished true to the original time period and serve as examples of village and small-town everyday life. The kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms paint a vivid picture of home life through to the 20th century. In craft workshops, visitors discover the tools typical of traditional trades; blacksmiths, basket weavers and others are at work in regular demonstrations. Just past the entrance to the park, the marketplace square building group opens up. The half-timbered houses here house historical exhibits, an old pharmacy and a print shop. There is also a tavern and several stores, which provide opportunity to experience and enjoy.Read more »
Construction, insulation, air-quality regulation: Historical building fabric with a future
The village buildings made of earthen clay, stone and wood, especially the half-timbered houses, are the open-air museum’s proverbial soul. Clay earth, mixed with straw or as clay bricks, can be found in the partitions of the supporting wooden frameworks. Entire walls are made of earthen clay; straw-clay siding insulates living spaces from the outside and protects gables and eaves against wind and rain. This rather rare wall covering was once found in the Hessian back country, the Westerwald and the Eifel all the way to Belgium. Therefore, the museum team applied this weather protection to several barns, using traditional techniques.
„As an ecological raw and building material, clay earth is inextricably linked to half-timbered construction“, says Eberhard Feußner, head of the Building Department & Competence Centre for the open-air museum. „It creates a very good indoor climate. What’s so exciting about it is its significant ornamental quality for clay earth infills using the ‘stip and scratch plaster’ technique, which has become intangible world cultural heritage.“