The bus running in the direction of Stuttgart’s Schlachthof is up ahead. Just as I think it’s about to pull away without me the door swishes opens and the driver bids me to step aboard. Schwein gehabt as they say in this part of the world; I’ve been a lucky swine.
I’m on my way to the Schweine Museum (Pig Museum), housed within a Jugendstil-influenced building – dating from 1909 – that once served as the administrative building of Stuttgart’s old slaughterhouse. The butchering on the 12 hectare site ceased back in 1992 and the admin building was converted to hold apartments. It opened as the Schweine Museum in May 2010.
A place to eat and drink
The attraction I’ve come to see is run by Erika Wilhelmer, who’s also the proprietor of the Schlachthof bar-restaurant. I glance at a menu and note that the dishes served include schnitzel made from pork, Schweineshaxe (pork knuckle) plus braised back of pork; all traditional German dishes that seem particularly fitting, given the location
“The slaughterhouse itself was torn down,” Erika explains, when we begin chatting in German.
Erika previously ran a museum at Bad Wimpfen, on Lake Constance, then started collecting the pigs that are today displayed in 25 themed rooms in the attraction that proudly proclaims its status as “the largest pig museum in the world.”
A collection of pigs
“I collected totally different things then had a guest with me who collected pigs. I brought her a little Miss Piggy from the market but I didn’t want to give it away. It was very pretty; it was painted, really beautiful. I had no idea then there were antiques,” recalls Erika. Her collection grew quickly.
“She had 200. The kitchen, bath and living room was full of pigs. I overtook her in the first year. I had 600. She was shirty with me,” recalls Erika laughing.
“Visitors made an effort. They brought me pigs every now and again and the collection got going. I bought them up at flea markets too. I still go to markets but there are far fewer antiques. I get hold of them from dealers. They seek them out for me.”
So are there any major gaps in her collection? Nothing major it seems. Then Erika pauses and says, “I’m missing a bit from France. In Belgium I got a few but it’s become tricky.”
Do any of the pigs stand out, I wonder?
“I have hundreds of favourites,” says the museum’s owner. “Those that are sauteuer [meaning ‘very expensive’ and a play on the word ‘sow’ that has no direct translation in English] and saugut [‘very expensive’]. I love each one. I have kitsch, for sure. I’ve also received whole collections from people who didn’t want them anymore.”
More than 50,000 items
Erika offers a surprising number of little piggies a home. “We have about 50,000 now. The whole third floor of the museum is packed full of pigs. We try to categorise them – glass to glass and metal to metal, and so on – but there are a few that don’t fit. We change our collection around every now and again and that pleases repeat visitors, when they see something they haven’t already,” she says before I head off to explore the exhibits.
The museum’s strapline is Kunst, Kultur und Kitsch (art, culture and kitsch) and the exhibits range from informative, scientific style displays – providing information about the development of piglets in the sow’s womb and facts about the consumption of pork – to witty arrangements providing information on how language has been influenced by pigs.
I learn that in 2010 the average German ate a remarkable 56kg of pork. Since the 1950s consumers have demanded meat with less fat resulting in changes to the breeds kept on many farms.
It seems that nobody knows definitively how many pig species live in the world; it could be around 150 though it may be higher.
Insights from around the world
There are a number of informative snippets displayed in the museum. People have kept pigs for 9,000 years, according to evidence discovered by archaeologists in Turkey. The presence of the animal around the world means that it features in many cultures and mythologies.
As you might expect, the artefacts on display include books, comics, toys and even clothing. Piggybanks, it turns out, may date back to the 13th century. One of that age was found in Billeben, Thuringia.
I’m fascinated to learn that Steiff, the toy manufacturer today best known for their teddy bears, was marketing cuddly pig toys in 1892, ten years before their first ted appeared.
This is a museum that has exhibits which appeal to adults and others that kids will love. It’s a quirky, fun place to visit that’s worth a look next time you’re in Stuttgart. Who knows, maybe it’ll leave you as happy as a pig in muck?
The Schweine Museum is at Stuttgart’s Old Slaughterhouse (Schlachthofstrasse 2a, 70188 Stuttgart, tel. + 49 711 66419 600). The nearest bus and U-Bahn stations (Schlachthof) are a couple of minute’s walk from the museum and around ten minutes’ ride from the central station. The museum is open daily from 11.00am to 7.30pm. See the website for up-to-date information regarding opening times and entry prices.
Photos illustrating this post are by Stuart Forster.
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