European cities are facing the downfall of industry for a while now. Causing the changes in society and people’s lives, it is becoming more and more important topic also for the museums. Museums try to save and preserve some remains of the fallen or transferred industry. Although, preservation and assuring the referential point in constantly changing times is an important role for museums, who wish to compensate the loss of industry and modernisation (Marquard 2001 in Zübe 1989 po Kaiser idr. 2014, 6), that is no longer enough for them. Museums are becoming the carriers of the changes as well, as Kaiser, Krankenhagen and Poehls place museums (2014, 6). This means, museums need to face their actions also in the present society and its needs, as well as in the future. There are more and more museums, who are doing their best to leave their footprints in this process. TIM is just one example, how once leading textile industry in Augsburg has managed to cope with their vanished era.
Placed in an old complex of former textile factory, State Textile and Industry Museum Augsburg tells a story of industrial importance of Augsburg in the textile field in the history. It is a specialized history museum, which pays a tribute to the once important and todays ruined bit of local textile industry.
I had an opportunity to visit the museum already three years ago, and with a help of a really good guided tour, it charmed me completely. It was nice to come back again after three years to see, how they are proceeding. Museum is placed in an old building with a subtle and clear museum design. The concept of the museum follows the chronological order, with an introduction of the textile production from the very beginning through raw materials with silkworms and origins, and so on, followed by the machine production, textile patterns and final products through time. The main story is accompanied by the parallel story in the separate thematic cubes, introducing the development of the textile industry in Augsburg. Both stories are very intuitively and neatly arranged. Through being a very structured museum, it is very clear for the visitors to follow the proposed storylines, with interesting blue interactive DIY islands with children’s tasks and games. Although, I appreciate there is not too much text, more text in English wouldn’t hurt. They offer guided tours in five languages though. However, for individual non-German speaking visitors, who wish merely to stroll around and discover the exhibition on their own, there is a gap. In addition, the staff addressing you in German no matter your questions are in English also doesn’t help much. There is demonstration of the machines by the former factory workers, which is impressive, it adds value to the whole concept and helps clarifying the picture, however it is available three times a day – if you are not aware of this, you can easily miss it.
Nevertheless, to continue with the space itself – it breathes and it is not overcrowded with objects. They have managed to keep the feeling of the former factory and transform it in to a museum at the same time. There are also a lot of remarkable design ideas, which enable the display of the more sensitive objects, placed into drawers, with sensor lighting, that turns on, when the visitor approaches the showcase. Unfortunately, all the sensors did not work anymore.
During my first visit, I admired the most the idea of making the special Augsburg textile patterns available for the public with a help of technology. Tim keeps around 550 pattern books, which span the period of 1793 to 1993, and include approximately 1.3 million textile patterns. Since the books are old and sensitive museum objects, they need to be exhibited under extremely strict conditions, which are not very friendly to the visitors. At the same time, it is impossible to enable the overview of all of the patterns through opening the books on a random page, without the possibility to browse through the books (reasonably not allowed). Therefore, they came up with an idea of a museum catwalk with three giant central female dresses, equipped with computer connection to the scanned patterns from the books and the possibility of projection of the selected patterns to one of the two completely white dresses. Genius! It offered us children to play, and more serious design students to try out their combinations and ideas. However, at my second visit this no longer existed. The first giant dress remained as it was, made out of various patches of cloth, whereas the white two are now so to say – useless. One was just there, and the other had a too bright projection of a very short video clip about something. It was excessively bright and therefore, impossible to decipher the meaning of it. Without the computer stations with patterns, these three giants lose their meaning and work only as a middle filling of the room with books of patterns on the sides, which are excessively illuminated from the bottom up, making it impossible to watch the patterns in the dark showcases anyway.
The presented textile story is very well incorporated into the important historical events, with emphasis on their influences on the industry. It rounds the dramatic rise and fall of the textile industry during the 20th century, including the First and the Second World War. For this purpose, the complementary video content is carefully incorporated in a very subtle way, blending in with the grey info islands and showcases, enriching the story flow and adding the information value.
For those of us, who do not like to read too much anyway, the final exhibition segment was the most interesting one, presenting the selected pieces of fashion clothes, including the remarkable black wedding dress from 1909. The majority of presented dresses and swimsuits is ladies-wear, although some uniforms and gentlemen’s suits were not missing. Moreover, I must say, I wouldn’t mind to have a dress or two from the exhibition in my home closet. Whether I would manage to fit in, is another question; however, some pieces are really beautiful and timeless.
Permanent exhibition is concluded with a quick jump into present times with probably most popular room among the children, I imagine. A special grey cube includes space-like suite for steel workers, firefighters’ protective wear, wind-stopper test, carbon fibre products and other – to me – less appealing things with interactive elements.
Overall, museum offers a rounded story and illuminates an important piece of industrial history. Some relevant contemporary issues regarding this industry remain unspoken and can still be used in the temporary exhibitions, where the wonder and usefulness of the carbon fibre was presented at my visit. The museum is fresh and made with a thought on the ones, who like to discover things. However, what truly disappointed me is the prohibition of taking photos in today’s era?! I would fully understand the limitation of photographing with prohibition of flash usage, but the full stop? Their webpage says, it’s because of protecting the copyright – what copyrights? Or better, whose? It is a state museum, devoted to the people. And anyway, prohibiting the visitors from taking any photos in nowadays times is just a manifestation of not understanding, how the social web world is turning. Because of this demand, I am using the photos from three years ago, when no one prohibited me from taking any photos.
There has been a slick article exactly on this topic: Why is taking photos banned in museums.
To wrap it up, the museum is very contemporary in its storytelling, compared to other museums Augsburg has to offer, and it is worthwhile visiting. They even have a lovely museum shop at the entrance/ exit; with live on the spot sewing corner, many tim’s products and fair supply of thematic books for adults and children. In addition, their chic café/ restaurant fits perfectly to the ambient and rounds the museum experience with a tasty refreshment. Not to forget, how great the fact is, they have managed to name the tram station after the museum and a bus line as well. However, it still holds a broad space for improvements to develop into more tourist friendly destination. Especially, loosing that leftover of hierarchical demand of visitor’s gratefulness for being able to visit the museum, which completely mismatches their friendly webpage.
Finally yet importantly, I would like to take a quick look in Slovene museums and the industry topic. In Slovenia, there have been a few examples of facing the decomposing elements of the deindustrialization; only a few will be mentioned here, since this calls for a special post on its own. Years ago, Museum of Recent History Celje prepared a participatory project “Ne meč’te piskrov stran” referring to the public call to collect the Western-Emo enamel pots and use them in art interpretations, while enriching the museum collection with these missing elements. In Bela Krajina Museum, a temporary exhibition to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Beti Textile Company – the economic miracle of Yugoslavia (Brancelj Bednaršek 2016) is on a display this year. In Maribor, The Museum of National Liberation of Maribor is actively collecting the remains of the vanishing industries, preserving their spirit and (hi)stories, recently with emphasis on the Maribor’s textile industry, known as the Yugoslav Manchester.
Kaiser, Wolfram, Krankenhagen, Stefan in Poehls, Kerstin: Exhibiting Europe in Museums. Transnational Networks, Collections, Narratives, and Representations. New York in Oxford: Berghahn, 2014. (Volume 6, Museums and Collections).
Brancelj Bednaršek, Andreja: Predgovor/ Foreword. Beti: 60 let spominov. Beti (Metlika). Metlika: Belokranjski muzej, 2016. 10-13.