I have noticed that reviews of museums seem to go down well and since I have spent the last 3 years or so in two famous, but rarely visited institutes, it seemed sensible for me to write a bit about Munich and Beijing. The latter will follow tomorrow but we’ll start with the BSPG.
Those who are have hung around on the Musings or have far too much time on their hands will know that this little acronym strands for the real mouthful of the Bayerische Staatssammlung für Paläontologie und Geologie (that’s the Bavarian State Collection for Palaeontolgoy and Geology) where I spent two years of my postdoctoral career. However, although this is the official title of the institute, the actual museum that forms the public side of the place is formally called the Palaeontology Museum, Munich.
Bavaria has a fair amount of independence that most other German states do not possess and this is reflected in the BSPG and several other state institutes scattered around, though many other states also maintain separate collections or research centres. The building was originally a choral school in the late 1800s and was later appropriated for the research collections (I don’t know the dates offhand). It suffered extensive damage in World War II when among other things the holotype of Spinosaurus was lost. The building actually joins onto the geography building of the local university, and we share various offices and lecture spaces with them as well as various other facilities. Although there is no formal teaching at the BSPG we do take in students to work on the collections and various members of staff lecture on geology and zoology courses. If you get to the museum you will see just how small it is and various doors that are hidden behind or between cabinets of specimens lead to offices, libraries and labs that are scattered around. Inevitably with its position it has become home to an extensive collection of Solnhofen fossils including numerous pterosaurs (thanks in part to Peter Wellnhofer and Alfred von Zittel being in residence) and an Archaeopteryx specimen, as well as Compsognathus.
The museum is very small and based around a single large open room over four floor with exhibits in the centre on the ground floor and then around the walls and balcony on higher floors as well as several corridors. Collections are held both on the top storey and in the extensive basement as well as odd cabinets dotted around in corridors. The museum is small, but of course there is a lot of fossil material in Bavaria and both through our prominence and log history much has ended up with us (for example not on display is one of many casts of Diplodocus carnegii, and a literal ton of Plateosaurus material, as well as probably a hundred pterosaurs I would guess as well as extensive invertebrate collections and plenty of mammals).
Given the limited space, walls and even ceilings are used to support material and there are beautiful sharks, crocodiles and icthyosaurs embedded in the walls in the stairwells and elsewhere, and models are hung from the roof. The main hall is crowded with a delightful variety of material and as a view is probably best known from the photo in Wellnhofer’s superb Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Pterosaurs (a must-have and available second hand online quite cheaply if you search). Here is my version of the same shot showing off the Plaetosaurus, Pteranodon, a gompothere and Bradysaurus. Also present is a cave bear, Prestosuchus, Megaloceros, that Triceratops skull and a placodont as well as a few other bits on the walls like the Allosaurus skull cast, Centrosaurus, (incorrectly labelled as a Monocolonius), an ichthyosaur, Compsognathus and an amazing and very large thalattosuchian.
The second floor contains various exhibits on the origins of man and human culture (though that’s in the process of a rebuild as the floor overall gets an overhaul). The third floor contains the Munich Archaeopteryx (actually a cast since we can’t afford the twins costs of insurance and security to keep it on display sadly) a new exhibit tracing the history of live and each year a new special exhibition (of course featuring pterosaurs just a few years back). There some further specimens on the fourth floor with fishes and reptiles (including a rather nice Tanstropheus) but that’s about it.
The exhibits are a mixture of primarily real specimens and casts or models. Some are exceptionally good and here I would make special mention of the Pteranodon that hangs from the roof. While Peter Wellnhofer is rightly celebrated for his research into pterosaurs, his ability as an artist is often overlooked. While John Sibbick was responsible for all of the colour artwork in the Encyclopaedia, Peter himself provided the vast majority of the black and white artwork of drawings of bones, skeletons and life reconstructions. He illustrated all his own research papers, often with superb and very accurate drawings. However, he also built various models as well including the aforementioned Pteranodon. In fact there are photos of it in under construction in the Encyclopaedia if you hunt them down (p 171 in my version, which also shows the model Rhamphorhynchus too).
Well that concludes this little tour. Ok, so it’s more a set of photos than anything else but should be of interest to some. If you have the time it is well worth tracking down the museum – it is rather hidden away and I repeatedly found that people who had lived their whole lives in Munich just a few streets away had no idea it existed which is a real shame. I should add for flight aficionados that the Deutsches Museum (the science and technology museum in Munich which is one of the best museums I have ever been to) has an excellent short display on the evolution of flight to go with their main hall on human flight.
Share this Post