History You Can Feel—Detmold’s Open Air Museum

From farms to mills to manor houses, this display captures the days of old.
By Don Heimburger


“This is one of my favorite places to visit when the weather is good. It’s like stepping back in time… seeing buildings from the past,” says a visitor to Germany’s largest open-air museum in Detmold near Hanover.

“If you’ve ever been to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, this is sort of like that but far less commercial,” says another visitor.

“I loved wandering from place to place, amazed that we were allowed to enter each building, stroll through the rooms, and actually touch the smooth insides of a wooden bread bowl or the rough linen of a feather bed instead of peering at them through plexiglass,” mentions a third museum visitor.

The 200-acre Westphalian State Museum for Rural History and Culture is an amazing collection of more than 100 completely furnished antique buildings that demonstrate life in Germany from about the 1500s to the 1900s. Some buildings showcase rural homesteads, while others feature village life.

The buildings, many of them half-timbered and thus showing a distinctive structure style, were all transported to the museum grounds from various areas of Westphalia where they were re-assembled. They include farm houses, stores, summer houses, schools, chapels, complete farms, sheds, barns, windmills, water mills, manor houses, granaries, bakeries and even a photographer’s studio.

You’ll also find a retirement home, bee house, a rental house, a craftsman’s home, a garden pavilion, a firehouse, a moated farm, a restaurant, small cottages and a 1951 concrete petrol (gas) station from the town of Niederschelden. The station serves as an example of the beginning of mass transportation in rural Westphalia after World War II. In addition, the museum features shrines, a transformer tower, a forge, boundary stones, a garden pavilion and also a poorhouse.

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