American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

The Alpine Museum of Munich

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  • Publication Year: 1932

The Alpine Museum of Munich

Harriet Geithmann

IN the heart of Munich stands the Alpine Museum on an island in the Isar River which travels across Bavaria for one hundred and seventy-five miles before it joins the blue Danube. A better location could hardly be chosen in this Bavarian city of 1,000,000 inhabitants. At Prater-Insel 5, close to Maximilianstrasse and within a stone’s throw of the great Deutsches Museum of Industries and Science, which records the mechanical evolution of man from the stone age to the present day, stands this picturesque little Alpine Museum dedicated to the world of mountains, glaciers, flora and fauna and to the mountaineers everywhere.

Founded in 1910 by the German and Austrian Alpine Society, the Alpine Museum of Munich is housed in an attractive gray castle of rococo character with a green copper, turreted roof. One would hardly suppose that a castle would lend itself to the needs of a museum with such happy results.

In the extensive garden surrounding the castle are trees, rocks and alpine flora all labeled for the instruction of visitors. This garden is admirably suited for the display of mineralogical and botanical specimens and will in time serve as a complete open-air museum. Among the geological specimens are interesting stalagmites and stalactites and great boulders, measuring from forty to sixty centimeters in diameter which represent the most important rock formations of the Alps. To the average person these exemplify the general characteristics and peculiarities of their native structure far better than the usual small samples of mineralogical collections. They have been carefully selected to show the various phenomena of geology : the action of fire, water erosion and mountain pressure. Rocks of volcanic origin stand side by side with rocks of sedimentary origin and with the combinations of the two, the metamorphic rocks. In this alpine garden one may trace the geological history of the world by studying pages torn directly from the book of the mountains.

Entering the vestibule, the mountaineer is confronted with life-sized statues of an alpinist and a skier, graceful bronze figures created by the sculptor, E. Geiger. The walls are covered with great paintings of alpine scenery.

In the central hall, downstairs, stands an immense relief map of the peerless Jungfrau and the surrounding Alps, created by X. Imfeld of Zürich on a scale of 1 in 2,500, which, with the exception of the Glockner relief, is one of the few, if not the only one, of similar size in existence. Not only is it remarkable for beauty and infinite fidelity to the details of mountain and glacier but, technically speaking, it is also a work of art. Imfeld spent many years of his life in its construction. The forests are represented in the background by 600,000 minute wire brushes which have been plastered in, thus greatly adding to the beauty of the relief as a whole. Here, too, are life-sized statues of mountaineers—painted figures of both men and women, showing their equipment and costumes for victory over lofty peaks.

The stairway leading to the second floor is a real art gallery, the walls being covered with colored pictures of alpine flora and photographic reproductions from Fischbach’s original drawings showing the principal trees : pine, fir, larch, sycamore, mountain juniper and maple. Samples of the significant parts of these trees are preserved in formalin water. Measures have been taken for the protection of the modest gentian and the still more modest edelweiss, both of which are in imminent danger of extinction because of their popularity.

On the second floor of this castle-museum are paintings, views of the first ascents of the Alps, maps, optical instruments, manuscripts and mountaineering pins and emblems of all descriptions, ranging from silver ice-axes to silver clusters of the beloved edelweiss. The huge library is housed in another building. Cabinets of exhibits trace the history and development of alpinism, and there are special diagrams illustrating the fall and melting of the snows at various altitudes and different seasons of the year ; other diagrams indicate the various zones of vegetation from valley floor to mountain top. Many specimens reflect the native life of the people who make their homes in the high country : richly decorated spinning wheels, doll cradles, embroidered belts, knives, forks and spoons embossed and inlaid with silver, pocket altars, watches and compasses. Here also are found rules and regulations of mountain hygiene and studies of the number of the blood corpuscles in the climber and of how they correspond with certain altitudes and influence mountain sickness.

Particularly refreshing it is to visit this little Alpine Museum after one has trekked for miles through the endless corridors of museums of art, research, natural history, education, science, anthropology, traffic and engineering, ad infinitum, all over Europe. It is only a matter of time, when America will have one or more alpine museums of its own. The American Alpine Club has already begun a modest alpine exhibit in New York City. It has a valuable library of alpine literature, prints, photographs, maps, lantern slides, two relief maps of the Canadian Rockies, a case of geological specimens and a museum case of other rare items, manuscripts, etc. In due time there will also be a similar exhibit in the west, literally within view of the high Sierras, the snow- crowned Cascades or the saw-toothed Olympics—a museum sponsored by the mountaineering clubs of the Pacific Coast, one that will be a credit and an inspiration to alpinists everywhere as is the Alpine Museum of Munich today.


The following notes on other Continental museums may be of interest to mountaineers :

Vienna. The Imperial Art Museum contains a magnificent group of paintings by Peter Breughel, chiefly illustrative of peasant life. His winter landscape, showing the Rhone Valley near Villeneuve is noteworthy.

The Imperial Library contains an exhibit of rare maps, including the Peutinger table and the manuscript map of Switzerland by Conrad Türst (1497).

Klagenfurt. A small Alpine museum is housed in the Rudolfineum, a museum devoted chiefly to archæology. Chief among the relief maps is one of the Glockner group on a scale of 1:2,000 (1cm. = 20 m.). There is also the fine painting by Scheffer von Leonhardshoff, showing the start of Cardinal Salm on his expedition to the Gross Glockner in 1799.

Innsbruck. The Ferdinandeum (Museum Strasse) contains an excellent geographical collection, especially of the work of the early surveyors ot Tyrol, Anich and Hueber. Burgklehner’s “Eagle” map of Tyrol (1608), Ygl’s map (1604) showing the Oetzthal glaciation, and Paul Dax’s map of the Zillerthal are also to be seen. The Defregger room contains fine studies of the peasant types in action during the Napoleonic wars.

The Museum of Peasant Art (beside the Hofkirche) is the best of its kind in Austria : costumes, carvings, early room interiors.

The Innsbruck Section of the D. u. Ö A. V. (Rennweg 8) exhibits a relief of Tyrol (1:50,000) covering thirty square yards.

St. Moritz. The Segantini Museum (Campfer) contains notable examples of this artist’s work, much of which was done in the vicinity of Maloja.

The Engadine Museum contains old furniture and rooms dating from the sixteenth century.

Chur. The Rhaetian Museum (beside the St. Martin’s Church) contains numerous carved chests and other examples of Engadine art.

Basel. The Natural History Museum (Augustinergasse) contains ethnographical collections, the top floor being devoted to Alpine areas. The antique toys of peasant children are of especial interest.

Bern. The Bernese Historical Museum (Helvetia-Platz) contains early Swiss rooms, sledges, utensils and furniture.

The Swiss Alpine Museum houses the chief collections of the Swiss Alpine Club. The Matterhorn relief by Imfeld, and the models of huts are noteworthy. The Club has recently acquired the library of the late W. A. B. Coolidge.

Geneva. The Musée d’Art et d’Histoire (Rue Charles Galland) exhibits sketches by Rudolphe Toepffer, paintings by Calame, and the gorgeous altar painting by Conrad Witz (fifteenth century) depicting the Miraculous Fishing, with Christ walking on the water of the Lake of Geneva and the range of Mont Blanc in the background.

Chamonix. In the Hôtel de Ville, where the Paccard tablet will be unveiled at the time of the International Congress of August, 1932, is the Musée de Chamonix, containing excellent collections relating to Alpinism. The development of the ice-axe, the cowbell, the packbasket are shown in progressive series. There are some good prints, and such unusual items as the red plush mule saddle used by Empress Eugénie on her visit to the Mer de Glace, and the turret of the Janssen Observatory which once stood on the summit of Mont Blanc.

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