I was recently going through some pictures from a 2003 trip to Munich and stumbled upon something that made me smile. I hadn’t thought about this strange and befuddling travel experience in a long time and was thrilled to have rediscovered it. I imagine that most people feel the same sense of confusion and amusement when reflecting on ZAM, the Zentrum fur Aussergewohnliche Museen (Center for Unusual Museums).
I first learned of ZAM while reading through the Let’s Go Guide for Germany, a series I still use to find unique experiences. Normally I would have been infuriated at any guide book that directed me to a place as bad as ZAM, but ultimately what made the Zentrum a truly great museum was its shear ridiculousness.
The Center for Unusual Museums was a collection of six smaller museums. The collections finding a final resting place, almost like the Island of Misfit Toys were the:
- Chamber Pot Museum;
- Toy Pedal Car Museum;
- Easter Bunny Museum;
- Padlock Museum;
- Museum of Scent;
- And The Sisi Museum (Elisabeth of Bavaria, Empress of Austria).
I’m not sure why or how an individual would ever begin the process of collecting such useless and disparate assemblages of junk, but the curators, and I use that term as loosely as possible, were quite serious in their organization of these artifacts.
We spent about 45-minutes touring the exhibits, mostly because the curator was hovering about 3 feet away at all times. Through stifled laughs we feigned interest in the collection of chamber pots, shuddering to wonder when they had last been cleaned.
The Easter Bunny Museum was kind of cute and mildly interesting, but I’m still not sure why the Empty Perfume Bottle Museum was there at all. Sadly, the Padlock Museum was closed and the Toy Car Museum kept our interest for almost 10 minutes.
From an American point of view, the Sisi Museum (Elisabeth of Bavaria, Empress of Austria) was the most confusing, although had we been Bavarian I suppose it would have made more sense. After our tour, we walked a few blocks away to the Hofbrauhaus for a much needed beer and some laughs.
In retrospect, as bad as this museum was, it remains one of those unique travel memories that stay with you forever. When you travel it’s not the expected things that mean the most, it is the truly bizarre and unexpected that make the adventure worthwhile.
I wish everyone could have the opportunity to experience the sheer joy of witnessing the oddities at ZAM, but sadly this misfit museum closed in 2006. With its closing, visitors to Munich have one less chance to experience their own strange travel moment and instead are relegated to the more conventional tourist attractions. Scores of these institutions exist around the world, but as they fail in the face of homogenized tourism, the world becomes a little less interesting.
Have you found something truly odd and bizarre on your travels? Let me know what it is!