Siegfried Wendel holds up a thin metal disc. “Here’s the first-ever computer program,” he chuckles, pointing out perforations in the metal disc which form a simple binary code of instructions. He inserts the disc into a slot in a large upright box, gets it spinning and the resonant notes of a piano sonata fill the room.
Then he picks up a black wooden chair to reveal a Swiss-made musical box hidden inside the seat and activated by downward pressure. It’s the tuneful 19th Century forerunner of the whoopee cushion! Like many of the amazing mechanical instruments in Herr Wendel’s wonderful Rhine museum, this musical chair was found by chance, abandoned and broken in an old junk shop.
Dressed in his black hat and long black coat, this genial, bewhiskered curator looks as if he’s stepped from the pages of Lord of the Rings. A few happy hairy-footed hobbits would hardly be a surprise addition to the remarkable house in Rudesheim on the Rhine that is home to Siegfried’s Mechanisches Musikkabinett.
This rambling house is called the Bromserhof, bits of which reputedly date from 1310. The house is within earshot of the rowdy Drosselgasse, a narrow lane of wine bars and souvenir shops that in summer is Rudesheim’s main visitor attraction. But take my word on this, you’ll have a more rewarding time at Siegfried’s museum.
The Bromserhof itself is a teasing architectural treat with its pointy shingle-covered turrets, white plaster walls and heavy wooden beams, its stone cellars and its many rooms linked by creaking wooden staircases.
Inside you’ll find every imaginable type of mechanical instrument, large and small, most of them rescued from almost certain oblivion.
These delightful animated machines were home entertainment eons before the advent of the Playstation or iPad. They came in all sizes from palm-sized musical boxes to a huge, ornate 1888 “doll automatorgan” complete with chorus line of dancing dolls in traditional costume. Now that’s entertainment!
I’m entranced by the many wondrous sounds emanating from this remarkable collection. The oldest piece is a 1780 mechanical flute organ that, suitably, is kept in the oldest room of the Bromershof, a room where you need stoop to avoid bumping into low-slung beams. Siegfried also has an exact copy of the first Edison “tinphonia” phonograph from 1877.
Rudesheim is located on the most beautiful section of the Rhine, the stretch of river between Koblenz and Mainz where magnificent castles occupy the high ground. The village is tucked into an elbow of the river and surrounded by steep vineyards.
In summer months its streets are swamped by day trippers and passengers pouring off an ever-growing flotilla of river cruise ships. Paying a visit to the Bromserhof is proof that making the simple effort to take just a few more steps can sometimes transform dross into total enchantment.
Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet, Im Brömserhof, Oberstraße 29, 65385 Rüdesheim Phone: +49 67 22 4 92 17, fax: +49 67 22 45 87. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org