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Friday, January 22, 2016

What is this strange thing?

“I found this strange item while cleaning out my mother’s house. Can you give me some information about it?”

The item in question was a sort of slanted oblong wooden piece about two and a half inches long and an inch wide. One of the short ends was closed off, and the other had a small hole surrounded by a round metal attachment. Three of the four long sides were closed, but one was open. Some kind of silver plating was visible through the open side. “D.R.P, ang” was carved into another side, and another was affixed with a stamp. The stamp shows an open eye and the words “HYGIENE-AUSSTELUNG DRESDEN MAI-OCTOBER 1911.”

While we haven’t yet been able to figure out what the object is, it seems to be some sort of souvenir from either the 1911 International Hygiene Exhibition or the German Hygiene Museum. “D.R.P, ang” most likely stands for “Deutsches Reichspatent angemeldet,” which means that a patent has been applied for or “patent pending.” The stamp is the logo for the International Hygiene Exhibition, a health-and-medicine-focused world fair that Karl August Lingner put on in Dresden in 1911. (Lingner made his money manufacturing mouthwash, so he may have had ulterior motives for emphasizing health and hygiene.)

The Exhibition was so popular that the exhibits were moved to a permanent home in the German Hygiene Museum, which is open to this day. The most famous exhibit is a transparent human figure, dramatically lit, through which one can see the systems of the body.

The museum went through an unsavory period beginning in the 1920’s when it became a supporter of “racial hygiene,” or eugenics. It continued to promote Nazi ideals through the 1940s, and even the transparent man was used in propaganda. In 2006, the German Hygiene Museum collaborated with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to host the Holocaust Museum’s exhibit, “Deadly Medicine.” The exhibit focused on eugenics and particularly how it was furthered by German doctors and scientists of the time. It continues to tour the world, and can even be viewed online.

Along with its permanent exhibitions on motion, the brain, eating and drinking, and sexuality, the German Hygiene Museum also currently has exhibits on AIDS as well as the dark side of the fashion industry.  

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