Thursday, February 12, 2015

Staubsauger Museum, Bruchmühlbach-Miesau, Germany

Staubsauger Museum

Miesau Pfühlstraße 15
66892 Bruchmühlbach-Miseau
Museum visits are by appointment only. Call 06372-5090051.
Entry is free but a donation is suggested

About two weeks ago, some friends and I were searching for a bit of fun on a cold winter day. I enjoy visiting eclectic little museums, so I suggested the Staubsauger Museum in Bruchmühlbach-Miesau. It's a short drive from Kaiserslautern (about fifteen minutes) and made for a pleasant and local trip.

Entrance to the Staubsauger Museum
What is a Staubsauger? That is the German word for a vacuum cleaner. I was initially charmed by the fact that there was a museum dedicated to vacuum cleaners. As the tour continued, I was charmed by another element.

The museum is open by appointment only. When I contacted Herr Steffgen, the proprietor of the museum, he informed me that the museum is normally closed during the winter because the building was not heated. However, if we were willing to have a chilly visit, he was willing to accommodate us.

Since our group of friends is accustomed to hiking during the winter and spending time outdoors, we gladly took Herr Steffgen up on the offer and met him at the museum, which was previously a cow barn and is now a neatly organized and displayed collection. It had been my impression that we would just look at the museum but we were in for a treat as he took us on a tour. He said that normally he would prepare a customized tour based on the participants' interests, whether it's focusing on history or more on technology. Since we hadn't specified our interests, he covered a bit of both.

He started by showing us the vacuum cleaner that had started the collection. Shaped like a milk can, it is at first glance nothing that extraordinary, other than antique. However, as Herr Steffgan told us, the vacuum cleaner's back story is rather unusual. In 1993, an 83 year old man from the local community gifted the slightly rusty vacuum to Steffgan and told him about its history. The elderly gentleman had bought the used vacuum cleaner from his boss in the 1930s. He had used it regularly but during World War II, he had to evacuate the area. He couldn't take the vacuum with him so he buried it. After the war, he returned and dug it up, finding that although it had rusted a bit, it was still perfectly usable. It was so usable, in fact, that he continued cleaning his floors with it until 1993!

Pictured on the right is the vacuum that started the collection.
Herr Steffgan continued the tour, taking a historical approach. When pointing out the earliest vacuum cleaners, he even gave me the chance to try a few mechanical models, which had been introduced starting in the 1860s. Phew! They are quite the workout, requiring the user to pump the handle up and down in order to create suction.

When we moved onto the 1930-50s, we found vacuum cleaners that were more than just devices to vacuum. Companies had been developing the motors for the vacuums and found that these motors could power other appliances. One could change out the vacuum bag for a blender, for example! Even better yet? With the proper attachment, it is possible to turn some of the vacuums into airbrush painting machines. Herr Steffgan allowed us to "paint" a board with some water in one of the airbrush attachments.
A futuristic vacuum cleaner, ca. 1950s, that hovered above the floor when in use!
We also learned about the power of vacuum cleaners. Herr Steffgan demonstrated a board that can be held to the wall with only suction. To prove the power of the connection, he had one of our group members sit on it.
The seat o' suction. No worries - the suction holds the seat on the wall.
The tour lasted about an hour. I did find that my feet became quite cold because I hadn't worn my hiking boots, but that is definitely my own fault as Herr Steffgan had been very careful to communicate that the museum would be cold.

Herr Steffgan and the vacuum that started his collection

Despite the cold, our small group really enjoyed the visit. I had mentioned earlier that in addition to the museum, there was something else very charming about the visit; it was Herr Steffgan himself. His enthusiasm for vacuum cleaners is catching and it's clear that he loves sharing his hobby. I had never given much thought to vacuums before but was sucked into the fascinating stories and information that he shared. Both adults and children can enjoy the museum with its mix of history, hands-on experimentation, and enjoyment of one man's hobby.

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