Located at Hamburg’s Reeperbahn, close to the St. Pauli underground station, you can find the PANOPTIKUM – the oldest wax museum of Germany. At first sight the institution may appear somewhat outdated. But that is not the case at all.
The PANOPTIKUM is located at the Spielbudenplatz in the heart of St. Pauli
With the increasing digitalisation of collections and the reflection on the use of virtual reality (VR) or Augmented Reality (AR) in museums – how can a traditional wax figure cabinet still exist? Nevertheless, the PANOPTIKUM has existed as a family business since 1879, for almost 140 years. Not many museums in Germany have such a long tradition.
It is particularly noteworthy that the PANOPTIKUM in Hamburg still presents its objects quite traditionally. Despite, or perhaps for this reason, the museum has maintained itself over the years in the struggle for the attention of the visitors. Around the turn of the 20th century there were originally a couple of wax museums in Germany. But with the emergence of the cinema, all of them disappeared. The Hamburg PANOPTIKUM is, therefore, the only German wax museum of this time, which still exists today.
Helmut Schmidt and Cleopatra at the PANOPTICUM
Wax Museums as Places of Communication
The exhibition shows that wax museums were originally created as places of communication and exchange of knowledge – so to speak, as a kind of great-grandmother of social media. Like almost all media phenomena, they combine entertainment and politics, but also strange and informative content. These characteristics can still be seen today in the PANOPTIKUM.
A walk through the exhibition shows that a traditional wax museum as a historical predecessor of social media can be combined very well with current social networks, such as Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook. Even if you don’t like to take selfies – you will change your mind at this place!
Hans and Sophie Scholl distribute their leaflets
A Place of History in the Middle of Hamburg
On the 2nd floor of the museum there is an area that deals with the National Socialism in Germany: In fact, Hitler, Goebbels and a few more can be seen here. The Nazi figures are originals from the year 1941. The NSDAP had once forbidden the owners of the wax museum to exhibit them. The figures were put aside and ironically survived the destruction of the first PANOPTIKUM by bombs during the Second World War in 1943. These are, therefore, historical originals, which are not just on display for the „fascination of horror“, but are shown as historical objects. In contrast, there are also Hans and Sophie Scholl, the famous members of the German resistance to Nazism, distributing their leaflets. The history of the Scholl siblings is told in the exhibition and the flyers are even reprinted, because the visitors are encouraged to take the sheets with them.
At the PANOPTIKUM you can learn how a wax figure is created
The exhibited characters all have something to tell, but the PANOPTIKUM in itself is even more exciting. The artistic and historical aspects of the museum are obvious as soon as one goes to the 1st floor or to the basement. But a guided tour (via audioguide) is also highly recommended. You will learn about how a wax figure is created. It is a complicated process that is still quite traditional – and the museum is continuously expanding its collection with new figures and developing the exhibition, slowly but steadily.
By the way: Since the PANOPTIKUM is located right in the middle of the Reeperbahn, the infamous amusement district of Hamburg, the wax figure cabinet has unusual opening hours: daily until 9 pm and on Saturdays even until midnight!
PANOPTIKUM – Wax Museum
Spielbudenplatz 3, 20359 Hamburg
This article is based on a text by Damián Morán Dauchez: Das PANOPTIKUM in Hamburg – Das älteste Wachsfigurenkabinett Deutschlands
Pictures: Damián Morán Dauchez – PANOPTIKUM Hamburg, 2016