The Museum of Village Life in Kommern is the second largest and one of the oldest open-air museums in Germany. It was discovered in 1961 in North Rhine – Westphalia. It is located about an hour’s drive from Cologne in one of the picturesque corners of the reserved Eifel region (Eiffel). The museum is very popular. More than 200 thousand people visit it every year.
In addition to the monuments of rural architecture and rural life items, in Kommerna you can see many different domestic animals that could easily fill most of Noah’s Ark. Many of them are rare breeds, but once kept in large numbers in the farmsteads of the Prussian Rhine Province, founded in 1822, to whose history and peasant traditions this museum is dedicated.
The capital of the Rhine Province of the Kingdom of Prussia was city of Koblenz. After 1945, during the creation of the Federal Republic of Germany, it was divided between the federal states North Rhine – Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate. That is, the territory from which old rural buildings are brought to Kommern does not correspond to the current administrative division of Germany. In the museum, for example, you can see exhibits from the banks of the Lahn and Moselle rivers.
Over seventy houses
In the 1960s, it all started with several houses that were transported to Kommern and reconstructed in their original historical form on the basis of scientific research. Now the museum has collected a total of about seventy old buildings, divided into four regional groups according to the geographical principle – separate regions of the former Rhine Province.
From Westerwald to Bergisches Land
This Dutch-style windmill, built in 1780, was moved to Kommern from the Lower Rhine (Niederrhein). The tour of the museum begins with the regional group Westerwald and the Middle Rhine (Westerwald / Mittelrhein). Then follow the Eifel and the Eifel foothills (Eifel / Eifelvorland), and in the corner farthest from the entrance there are monuments of rural architecture from the Bergisches Land.
On foot or by carriage
The museum occupies an area equal to about a hundred football fields. There are several hiking trails for visitors. The longest, passing through all four regional groups, is 2.5 kilometers. As an alternative way of transportation, you can use a horse-drawn carriage – for a sightseeing tour, in order to then purposefully examine the exhibits you especially like.
The objects of particular interest to visitors to any open-air museum, of course, include windmills. If the first one, which we have already seen, stands in front of everyone literally in an open field, then the second one hid in the neighborhood among the forest. This gantry windmill was erected in 1782 and is one of the first buildings moved to Kommern.
Mills can be viewed not only from the outside, but also look inside, and sometimes even see them in action. However, many other exhibits are also, so to speak, used for their intended purpose – for cultivating the land and other peasant affairs. If everything is clear with the plow, then the purpose of this wooden box, which, it turns out, measured the grain, would remain a mystery if there were no explanatory plate nearby.
Gardens with spices and medicinal herbs, vegetables, cereals are planted near many peasant farmsteads in the museum. Fruit trees are planted nearby: quince, apple trees, pears. Many of them are rare varieties that have almost disappeared. Everything is cultivated by old-fashioned methods, without modern fertilizers and insecticides. Part of the harvest is sold in the museum shop, which we will see later.
In the center of the first regional group of the Westerwald and the Middle Rhine is a forge from the end of the 18th century. She was transported to the museum from the banks of the Rhine, more precisely, from that part of the course of the river in which the Lorelei rock, covered with legends, is located. It is assumed that this half-timbered building originally served as a barn in a vineyard. Near the forge there is a machine for forging horses.
In Kommerna, the forge was reconstructed in 1966. She survived miraculously, having stood idle for exactly thirty years. The current museum blacksmith worthily continues the traditions of the old masters and works not only to demonstrate his craft to visitors. If necessary, he repairs museum exhibits and forges new replacement parts.
What is a locomobile?
Not far from the forge, in an old barn, a 1911 locomobile manufactured by Heinrich Lanz from Mannheim awaits visitors. Such mobile steam engines were designed to drive various agricultural machines: threshers, winnowing machines, pumps, electric generators. Outwardly, the locomobile resembles a small steam locomotive …
The need for locomobiles disappeared along with the spread of diesel engines. The first mass-produced tractor with a diesel engine was produced in 1922 by Benz-Sendling, but Lanz also did not lag behind. Her tractors, nicknamed bulldogs, were unpretentious and cheap.
Religion and faith
The chapel of 1783 made a very short way to Kommern – only five kilometers from the city of Mechernich. A small community in one of its districts decided in 1958 to erect a new temple, and to transfer the old one, together with the furnishings, to the museum. Images of saints and other evidence of deep peasant faith can be found everywhere in the museum. For example, a sign with a call to the Lord to take care of your home.
This residential building of the beginning of the 18th century was transferred to the museum from the Westerwald region, from near the city of Montabaur. Unlike most other old buildings in Kommerna, its current interior life and furnishings do not correspond to its original appearance. Inside, a functioning village shop from the 1920s-1950s was set up, as well as a bread shop that sells products from the museum bakery.
Not far from the Rhenish-provincial “selpo” there is a museum cafe. In one of the rooms of this inn, the furnishings of the village post office have been restored. “Do not spit on the floor!” – says a strict inscription near the counter next to the antique telephone. On the office table is a kerosene lamp, telegram forms and a Morse apparatus.
Toilet and bath
Facilities – in the yard. Even here they are original, not fake. True, they are no longer in use. Not in the yard, but on one of the squares, this well pump is installed with a cast-iron water bath, cast in 1867 at one of the factories in the Hunsrück mountain range. In the half-timbered house, a wine press from the Middle Rhine is in the background. What is the Rhine province without Rhine wines!?
Against the backdrop of village houses in the museum, this building stands out with a typical for Bergisches Land facade decoration with natural slate. Thanks to the water-powered forges, the region became an important metalworking center in Germany in the 18th century. In 1795, this house, later rebuilt many times, passed into the possession of a dynasty of German industrialists who founded the Mannesmann concern in 1890.
The concept of the museum excludes the presence of random objects. Any thing here is in its place, has a scientifically confirmed historical right to be present in this museum space. From the pots on the fence to the last spoon. By the way, speaking of spoons… The expression “To hand over a spoon” (Den Löffel abgeben) means the death of the eater, and one of the expositions in Kommerna is dedicated to village funeral rituals.
Stoves with chimneys, black-fired hearths … In every old peasant house, they occupy a central place. Almost all are in working order. Some are sometimes used for demonstration cooking according to old recipes. Particular attention should be paid to the cast-iron plates (Takenplatte) behind the hearths. They were mounted in the wall between the kitchen and the living room.
Cast iron plates
Heating up, they accumulated heat, transferring it then to a smoke-free living or sleeping area. Such plates were decorated with patterns or scenes, for example, on biblical themes. In one of the houses, a slab depicting the heroes of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is on display, cast around 1550 in the Eifel using a mold made by woodcarver Philipp Soldan.
It’s time to look into the peasant bedrooms. On a hot summer day, it is difficult to overcome the desire to get comfortable here, take a nap for half an hour. However, the idea has to be abandoned, if only for purely formal reasons. The sizes of these old beds are now not suitable even for many teenagers. Simple cosiness fascinates, and on one of the walls it became part of a kind of program statement…
“Suche das Glück nicht weit, es liegt in der Häuslichkeit” – “Happiness is not beyond the seven mountains, but beyond the native walls.” Such German folk wisdom, for example, embroidered on fabric and framed under glass, would be enough for a separate report, and reading them is no less exciting than reading museum explanations near the exhibits.
Museum address and website
LVR Freilichtmuseum Kommern