Language and Knowledge

“Where everyone has a say” – Germany’s first language museum

“wortreich” is set up as a mini world of science and hands-on experiences.  Photo: © wortreich in Bad Hersfeld“Wortreich” is set up as a mini world of science and hands-on experiences.  Photo: © wortreich in Bad Hersfeld“Wortreich”, Germany’s first interactive language and communications museum, opened its doors in October 2011 in Bad Hersfeld. Visitors to the exhibit follow in the footsteps of pioneers Konrad Zuse and Konrad Duden while experiencing the fascinating diversity of language and discourse.

“Have you had a chat, a chinwag or a bit of banter today? What ear did you set to receive? Which antenna did you put up? When was the last time you spoke in riddles or in the tongues of angels? What leaves you speechless?” These are some of the questions that greet visitors at Wortreich in Bad Hersfeld before they even have a chance to delve into the wondrous world of language and communication. The exhibition space stretches over 1,200 sq m and offers visitors the chance to take a closer look at things like the emergence of a language or the function of a binary code, the meaning of rhetoric or how to preserve a language, dialects like Schwäbisch or Denglish, and the voices of music, theater and radio.

Diverse subject matter, innovative methods and thoughtful design

On a space stretched over 1,200 sq m visitors have a chance to delve into the wondrous world of language and communication.  Photo: © wortreich in Bad HersfeldThe motto at Wortreich is “Where everyone has a say”. It is set up as a mini world of science and hands-on experiences where visitors are confronted with challenging questions like: Do you know what “amisette”, “pomadenhengst” or “kaltmamsell” mean? Have you ever thought about how the proverbial fifth wheel actually is mounted on the car? Do you know which words are used the most in German texts? In which countries do you throw your head back to say “no”? Why did human language even develop? How does a poetry slam among youth inspire a newfound awareness of language? How do language researchers preserve endangered languages like Aweti in Brazil?

To research these questions, Wortreich offers visitors information boxes, books and short films while thoughtful decorations, comprehensive statistics and clever quotations from celebrities like Jean Paul, Voltaire and Tucholsky adorn the walls: Sprachkürze gibt Denkwürze (brevity leads to thought); he who knows many languages has many keys for one lock; “How do people talk? Past each other!”

Active visitors

The Motto is “Where everyone has a say”.  Photo: © wortreich in Bad HersfeldOver 80 interactive stations with riddles, puzzles and games are the real highlight at Wortreich. Both adults and children can answer questions from the PISA test, look through a word kaleidoscope, send a text message on an over-size mobile phone, sing along to national anthems from all over the world, match the various dialects to the regions on the map, or play battleship with words instead of boats. There is also a game where players throw letter balls into basketball hoops, or dress up in costumes and masks to act out scenes from Romeo and Juliet, Little Red Riding Hood, or Ronia the Robber’s Daughter. In the interpreter’s box you can test your foreign language skills, while the Stimm Spa (voice spa) provides you with tips for controlling your voice. In the box of feelings you’ll have the chance to analyze joy, fear and anger. In the TV studio you can produce shows.

Follow the red line – Konrad’s life story

The museum is designed like a book that tells the life story of Konrad over 11 “chapters” in which visitors accompany the curious language enthusiast through his life of argot adventure. “The fictional character of course shares his first name with Bad Hersfeld’s famous native sons, Konrad Zuse, the inventor of the computer, and Konrad Duden, the father of German orthography,” explains marketing director Christian Mayer. The two personalities not only had a long-term influence on the city as well as the region, but also provided impetus for the museum.^

with 400-500 visitors per day, according to Mayer, the response has exceeded all expectations.  Photo: © wortreich in Bad HersfeldWortreich Bad Hersfeld has only been open for a few months now, but with 400-500 visitors per day, according to Mayer, the response has exceeded all expectations. It’s no surprise, though. With such diverse subject matter, innovative methods and detailed, thoughtful designs, the exhibition truly has something for all ages.

Janna Degener
works as a freelance journalist in Cologne.

Translation: Kevin White
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
February 2012

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