wax museums

The Cheesy Side of Hamburg (Hamburg mit Käse)

This is the second and undoubtedly my favourite of my mop-up style posts on Hamburg. You all know I love a bit of cheese (or should I say käse?), and fortunately Hamburg was very rewarding on that score.

Three times a year, Hamburg hosts a month-long festival called Hamburger DOM, which is apparently the biggest public festival in Northern Germany. It is just a really big funfair/carnival in the middle of Hamburg (free to enter, though you have to pay for everything inside), and is worth mentioning here mainly on account of all the creepy anthropomorphic food adorning the stalls, as seen above and below.

I’m not super into rickety carnival style rides (though I would have happily gone on the dark ride if Marcus was brave enough to go with me), but I did use it as an opportunity to try a couple of local delicacies (though sadly not a pickle from one of the ubiquitous pickle stalls, because I hate them, though I was delighted to see that they’re a standard carnival food here) – spaghetti eis and schmalzkuchen.

Spaghetti eis is just ice cream pressed through a spaetzle press so it comes out looking like spaghetti, and is then topped with strawberry sauce and white chocolate for the sauce and cheese. I could have gotten it in probably any local ice cream shop, but eating it out of a cone was so fun it almost made up for the low quality ice cream (not really though. I am an ice cream snob). Schmalzkuchen are just little fried balls of dough with your choice of topping – I know schmalz usually refers to some type of animal fat, but I think these were just fried in vegetable oil, though I didn’t actually check. Bad vegetarian.

Wax museums are one of my favourite things on the planet, so of course I had to go to Panoptikum. It was only like €5 with the Hamburg Card, and I don’t think you can put a price on the amount of joy that creepy wax figures bring me. They had free audio guides, but we skipped them, which means I don’t know who most of the German celebrities in here were (and just to clarify, the guy on the right is an unfortunate-looking German celebrity, NOT Jimmy Saville), except for Lena (above left), because I also love Eurovision, and still find myself singing “Satellite,” her winning song from 2010.

But yeah, this wax museum was pretty great. They had the whole gamut, from political figures like Angela Merkel and (ugh) Donald Trump…

to historical figures like a wall of kings and a shelving unit full of famous historical heads (I guess they’re no longer famous enough to merit bodies)…

to a very un-PC (but entertaining) freak show/hall of horrors downstairs (Michael Jackson was here, appropriately enough, though I think he was technically in the musician section)…

and Robbie Williams circa 2006 and a German woman who appears to be famous solely for the size of her breasts. Fabulous.

Finally, we went to see Miniatur Wunderland, because not only is it the “world’s largest model railway,” it is also apparently Hamburg’s leading tourist attraction. This was a terrible mistake. We had to book in advance, because Miniatur Wunderland is inexplicably incredibly popular, so we did it as the last thing before we had to leave for the airport. The website recommends spending some stupid amount of time, like 3-4 hours here, but we figured we could do it in an hour, and we weren’t wrong.

Miniatur Wunderland is in this giant building filled with other tourist traps, and we had to walk up about a million flights of stairs to get there, presumably to build anticipation. It costs €15 to get in, though I think we only paid something like €12 with the Hamburg Card. Then you have to walk through two floors of shop to even get to the stupid entrance. We went at an off-peak time, and it was still the most crowded thing ever. You couldn’t even get a space to look at the miniature things at most of the tables, and the lights kept going on and off to simulate nighttime, but it just made it hard to find your way from room to room without bumping into people. Also, this super annoying German guy kept following me around and going, “Wow” at everything, but with a German accent. “Wow-uh!” I wanted to punch him.

In theory, there were buttons you could press in every display to make various bits and pieces move, but in practice, children would just sidle their way in front of you so you couldn’t get near them. I did queue at the end to press the Lindt factory button, which spit out a piece of chocolate, but I had to pretty much hold this Augustus Gloop looking kid back with my elbow until it fell out and I could grab it. Wait your turn, Augustus!

The impression I got before going was that they were supposed to have re-created most of the world in miniature, but all they have is Hamburg, the US (solely the bits out west), Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and bits of Italy. The only thing I was sort of looking forward to seeing was London, to see how it compared to the real thing, but they haven’t built it yet. Other than the display of miniature conspiracy theories that we had to wait about ten minutes to see, because some guy wouldn’t move his ass (that’s where the photo of Nessie comes from), and the piece of chocolate, I really hated this place. Don’t go unless you REALLY like miniature railways, and have a much higher tolerance level for annoying children than I do.

To end on a high note, because I did genuinely really like Hamburg, aside from Miniatur Wunderland, I will talk about franzbrotchen, as I promised to do some weeks ago. They are a sort-of flattened cinnamon roll that originated in Hamburg, and they are everywhere, although obviously some are better than others. They come in a number of variations, and I recommend the streusel, because streusel makes everything better (though if you don’t want to be laughed at, make sure to call it “STROI-sel” rather than “STROO-sel” as most Americans, myself included, say). I recommend Hamburg in general – there’s loads of museums, and a cool bleak maritime vibe, which made for a lot of excellent sailory souvenirs, if you’re into that kind of stuff (I totally am).

Rome, Italy: Museo Delle Cere (Wax Museum) and the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary

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Oh my, have I got a treat for you today!  Rome isn’t all high culture and ruins.  Fortunately for people like me, it is also home to an extremely terrible wax museum.  And I mean terrible in the best possible way.  Trip Advisor reviews indicated how cheesy it was, and I’m pleased to report it lived up to the hype!  At 9 euros, it’s not exactly a cheap way to get a laugh, but it was blissfully free of crowds and beggars, so I think it was money well spent.  We’ll begin our tour, appropriately enough, in ancient Rome.  Above, that’s Julius Caesar on the left, and Cassius and Brutus on the right.

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This was followed by a trip through Italy’s history.  I have absolutely no clue who any of the people of the left are, the dude on the right is Alberto Sordi, but I’m only going off the sign next to him, as I don’t actually know who that is.  This was a common occurrence throughout the museum, as many of them were obscure Italian figures, and even ones who weren’t had been given Italianicised names (would you have known Giuseppe Vissarionovic is Stalin?).

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The hall of music was impressively lame.  Michael Jackson was the biggest name there, but they also had Zucchero (I’ve only heard of the man because one of his songs was number 1 in Italy when I was taking a road trip there a few years ago, so I heard it played about a million times on the radio).

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Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, and judging by the drum kit, the drummer from Pooh(?).  Good stuff.

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The hall of heads was my particular favourite.  I think they had information about how the wax figures are made in here, but it was all in Italian, so I just walked around laughing at the terrible looking heads.  Why is the guy in the middle so happy?

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The head on the right is meant to be Pope John Paul II.  Or Papa Giovanni Paolo II, as he’s known in Italy.  He seriously looks like the crypt keeper or something.  Terrifying.

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I feel like Mussolini was a reasonable effort, Oscar Wilde, not so much.  He was definitely outshone by his counterpart in the Wax Museum Plus in Dublin.  (Still pissed off about being cheated out of Jedward there, by the way).

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The guy who looks like a prisoner is actually Pablo Picasso.  Robey Magee over there is Dante Alighieri; after looking up his portrait, I see that this waxwork actually bears some resemblance to him.  Well done, Museo Delle Cere!

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And now, Soviet Russia, which was surprisingly well represented.  In addition to Stalin’s head (shown earlier), that thing that looks like a cartoon character on the left is meant to be Khrushchev; Lenin and Putin are probably more recognisable, though still quite crap.

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You know how I love getting my photo with anything FDR themed, so I snatched a pic with the vampiric looking specimen on the left.  He was shoved in a corner with Churchill, whilst Mussolini and Hitler were given a relatively primo spot.  Papa Francesco is a recent addition, and he looks rather cheery about it.

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Hall of Popes.  Poor John XXIII had the biggest head I’ve ever seen, he practically looked deformed.  It looked like it was a bit big in real life, but not that comically huge, so I don’t know what he did to deserve the honour.  Benedict had clearly just been shifted from pride of place by Papa Francesco, and was left to hang out with a monk and some Italian footballer.

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And, saving the best for last, Brad Pitt, Obama, and Einstein!  Brad Pitt was by far the worst waxwork in the museum.  He was really just awful, especially that wig.  Obama is definitely a bit off-looking, but he looks great compared to Brad Pitt.  And Einstein is inexplicably saucy – I like it!  There were a couple more popes and such rotating in the museum’s windows outside to try to draw people in, but be forewarned – if you try to take pictures of them or any of the ones in the entrance hall without paying admission, the cranky old guys who work there will come out and scream at you in Italian.  It is by far the worst wax museum I’ve been to, so I loved it, but if you want realistic waxworks, I’d skip it.  4/5 for being splendidly awful.

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And now, something free that I can’t mock; the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary.  If you wander around Rome enough, you’ll probably pass it at some point – it’s not terribly far from Campo de Fiori, (and the excellent pizza bianca at Il Forno Campo De Fiori), and is just off Vittorio Emanuele II.  It appears, at first glance, to be an ordinary square surrounding some ruins, like you’ll see many places elsewhere in Rome, but if you look closer, you’ll spot loads of cats lounging around in the ruins.

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These are the stray and abandoned cats of Rome, who have been taken in by the sanctuary, and thus get to sunbathe amongst the crumbling stones (they also have indoor housing!).  Although visitors are strongly discouraged from feeding the cats, some of them might come out to say hello regardless.  (Pet at your own discretion – the one I stroked seemed friendly enough, but I later saw her bite some guy).

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It was really nice to see abandoned animals being taken in and cared for, and there’s a pretty cracking gelateria just round the corner (Vice Gelato on Vittorio Emanuele 2, the pistachio and semifreddo flavours rocked), so you might enjoy stopping by if you have a free minute in Rome, and want to see something else not very touristy.   Or if, like me, you like cats but are allergic to them, you can enjoy them in an outdoor setting that is less likely to trigger an allergic reaction. Next post will be on tourist central – the Vatican Museums!