Rothenburg is reputed to be the best-preserved mediæval town in Germany and has two museums. The first is a Christmas museum dedicated to all things festive; the second is the Mittelalterliche Kriminalmuseum, or Mediæval Crime Museum. You can guess which one I ended up visiting.
The museum is substantial, with an extensive collection housed in two buildings – St John’s Commandery and St John’s Barn. Many of the objects on display are concerned with inflicting pain and suffering on people. There are two ways to approach artefacts of this sort. The first is to present them as schlock horror, with mannequins displayed in various states of agony. While this adds some human context to a rack or thumbscrews, the end result can resemble a carnival ghost train rather than offer any gain in empathy and understanding. The second approach is the one taken here, where artefacts are presented in museum cases without any depiction of their use beyond original mediæval illustrations. The danger with this is that the objects can become abstracted from their original horrific purpose; yet, most people have sufficient imagination to understand the devastating impact of an object like a choke pear on the human body.
One of the strengths of the Rothenburg Museum’s presentation is the way it contextualises the use of torture within the law of the time by displaying the texts employed to justify it. For example the Zeugenprotokoll (Protocol of Witness) stated that testimony from a single witness was not enough for a conviction, but sufficient to allow torture to be used. To secure a conviction, identical testimonies from two witnesses, or a single testimony and a confession were necessary.
A large section of the museum is dedicated to shame, and the ways this was inflicted on people. Some of these were straightforwardly physical – for example, the wearing of shame masks – others quite bizarre. One document shows that a debtor could be shamed by having his wax seal stamp impressed on the behind of a donkey or pig and the stamp hung on a gallows; as a result, the debtor was unable to make a clean seal to honour his obligations.
The practice of shaming went far beyond the masks we see in England, often associated with scold’s bridles. Examples on display include a wooden collar to be worn by a seamstress who transgressed mediæval clothing statutes in her own dress, a vast rosary to be worn by someone who had offended God by sleeping in Church, and a series of wooden cards and dice to be placed around the neck of someone who cheated while gambling. Perhaps the museum could be more interactive (I know an interactive Mediæval Crime Museum might not be to everyone’s taste) by having replicas of these shame necklaces available so that visitors could try them on; they would be able to experience their weight and imagine the discomfort of having to wear them for long periods of time.
With two specific exhibits the museum takes a very fortean approach. The first is the Nuremberg Iron Maiden. Although rumours abounded about the use of such devices in the mediæval period, it wasn’t until the 19th century that actual examples were discovered; one in Feistritz, Austria, in 1834, and one in Nuremberg.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
Lightning Or Legendry?: The Chase Vault Moving Coffin Mystery Revisited
The moving coffins of Barbados have been a staple subject of books on the unexplained for over a century, and yet no one has so far provided a wholly satisfactory solution to the mystery. BENJAMIN RADFORD argues that we might have been looking in the wrong place...
The Haunted Generation
Bob Fischer Rounds Up The Latest News From The Parallel Worlds Of Popular Hauntology...
The House On The Borderland In Search Of William Hope Hodgson
In his new book, EDWARD PARNELL goes in search of the ‘sequestered places’ of the British Isles and explores how these haunted landscapes shaped a kaleidoscopic spectrum of literature and cinema. Here, he arrives in Cardiganshire to look for the house in which the neglected master of weird fiction William Hope Hodgson wrote one of his greatest works.
Fortean Traveller: 117. The Mediæval Crime Museum, Rothenburg, Germany Fortean Traveller
STEVE TOASE feels the thumbscrews tighten as he explores a grisly collection exploring the history of mediæval torture and its relationship with the law
Where Ghosts Gather
In 1977, Usborne published World of the Unknown: Ghosts, the children’s book that inspired a generation of junior forteans. Four decades on, following a concerted fan campaign, the book is back in print... and the perpetually haunted BOB FISCHER tracked down its pleasantly surprised writer, Christopher Maynard, to discuss its genesis and unexpected impact.
A Bang On The Head
MARK GREENER explains how traumatic brain injury can change personality, creating serial killers and even vampires.
Blood-Suckers And Time-Travellers
A drunken warning from the future, plus violence against suspected vampires breaks out in Africa
India’s electricity eating “Living Light Bulb” and the man who swallowed a traffic cone
It Happened To Me...
The road beyond the village drops and twists steeply, so I drove cautiously.
Monkey selfie copyright battle ends at last
THE BEAUTIFUL LIFE THAT'S IN YOU
THOM BOND is a thought leader, peace educator, author, and mediation consultant who is best known for The Compassion Course. He's the founder and Director of Education for the New York Center for Nonviolent Communication. In part 2 of this interview, he talks with ELIZABETH DENLEY about his personal experience with NVC, and the associated learning curve.
GERMANY WANTS ADS, INFLUENCERS TO NOTE USE OF BEAUTY FILTERS
German state officials said that they want advertisers and social media influencers to label any photos that have used so-called beauty filters.
Tracking school information with AlekSIS Keeping the Books
In many classroom settings, paper grade lists and the good old class register are still the rule. The AlekSIS project offers a 21st century solution for small schools that want to go digital.
GOOGLE STRIKES CONTENT DEALS WITH 300 EUROPEAN PUBLISHERS
Google said that it struck licensing deals with 300 news publishers in Europe in its latest effort to comply with a recently introduced European Union copyright law.
A Sustainable MINDSET
THOMAS BRUHN is a physicist at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, Potsdam, Germany. He is a researcher and a bridge builder, helping experts and change-makers from all sectors of society to come together to explore the topic of sustainability, listen to each other, and develop solutions. In part 1 of his conversation with JUDITH NELSON at the Spirit of Humanity Forum in Reykjavik, Iceland, he talks about the walking holiday he had after finishing his studies, and how it informed his perspectives on nature and sustainability.
Canton Chrono 70 Loudspeaker - It's Chrono Time
Canton may be a speaker brand that’s relatively unknown in North America—no doubt due to the company’s products not being available in these parts for the past decade—but the German outfit has been doing business for almost 50 years. Headquartered about 25 miles north of Frankfurt, Canton is one of Germany’s largest loudspeaker manufacturers, offering a truly breathtaking spread of models across several product ranges.
Is Germany Still a Reliable U.S. Ally?
As Russia threatens Ukraine, Trump continues to casts a shadow over relations between Berlin and Washington
RFK JR. ANTI-VAX MARRIAGE CRISIS
Wife Cheryl Hines horrified by wild Nazi rant over COVID masks
The Miracle Bear
Is 23-year-old Urs Kalecinski the Next Classic Physique Olympia Champ?
GERMAN WATCHDOG PUTS GOOGLE UNDER CLOSER ANTITRUST SCRUTINY
Germany’s antitrust watchdog paved the way this week for extra scrutiny of Google by designating it a company of “paramount significance,” the first to get that label since regulators got more power to curb abusive practices by big digital companies.