This is also the case at the Museum for Nature, Mankind, and the Environment (abbreviated "namu"). For some reason, it does not occur to me until we arrive that it might be difficult to tour a museum in a non-English-speaking country, as all the labels and videos will be incomprehensible to us. Neither of the curators speaks English, and one seems a bit annoyed that we should ask (she is the only person who seems frustrated at our lack of German language skills). The other helpfully brings an English translation of the exhibit, which is somewhat useful—although, when you are a professional biologist, you can usually figure out the basics of what you are looking at in a natural history museum. It turns out that the English translator was decent, but not great, and there are some amusing problems with punctuation and wording. Still, thinking about what it would sound like if I translated something that complex from English into my second language, French, I can hardly make any judgments. The strangest part of the exhibit is a small room that focuses on moles. It contains a television playing a video in which people are clearly doing everything they can to eradicate moles, including driving over the lawn with a heavy roller in order to flatten the surface, and even planting small explosives into mole hills. At the base of the wall containing the television is a see-through tube in which are arranged a small population of crochet moles involved in a variety of very human things. This is one of the less scientific displays I have ever encountered in a science museum, and is particularly odd in a museum that ostensibly focuses on conservation, but it is cute, and I am forced to take pictures of the whole thing.
(Burying their dearly departed--probably someone bombed to death by a maniacal human gardener)
(French immigrant moles)
(Baby mole couch potatoes)
(I approve of both the pink bathroom furniture and the tiny rubber duck)
(I'll let the coffins and bathtubs slide, museum display people, but a cane? That's just silly--moles are quadrupeds)
(I'm not sure what's going on in this scene, but I do know that those moles need some fashion advice)
It turns out that you can buy copies of the crochet moles down at the front desk, and I resist the urge (I find myself always wanting cute, small stuffed animals, probably because I am desperate for a pet). Elsewhere in the museum is an exhibit on ways in which artists have portrayed nature, a subject that is near and dear to my heart. There are many pieces focusing on the story of “Hansel and Gretel,” which, my husband and I come to realize, is of German origin. There is something exciting about experiencing something “native” in its “natural” environment, particularly after a lifetime of encountering it somewhere else.
The only negative experience of the entire trip occurs on my last day exploring the town. I am accosted by a creepily over-friendly woman. At first, she speaks German and I think I will be able to escape her attentions by hiding behind the language barrier, but, unfortunately, she speaks excellent English. It turns out that I have caught her attention because I am wearing a relatively demure skirt, and she therefore believes that I am a good Christian lady. Until this encounter, I have not noticed that most women here wear either trousers of some sort (often tight ones) or quite short skirts (often so short that they just cover the swell of the butt—these are accompanied by tights, which theoretically make them look less like they have come from a prostitute’s closet). In my knee-covering dress and understated flat shoes, I must have been a sight for sore eyes for this woman, who turns out to have been born a Mennonite before being “born again” into some other Christian sect. She is dressed in an exceedingly plain, homespun-looking, ankle-length skirt and a strange turban-like hat, wears no makeup or jewelry, and has a strange unhealthy pallor that makes me uncomfortable with having to shake her hand (twice!). I am reminded of a pamphlet that my family was given once during a trip to Amish/Mennonite Country in Ohio; it extolled the virtues of women covering their hair, so as not to tempt, and wearing skirts, so as to clearly distinguish their gender. Obviously, the New World Mennonites still have much in common with their Old World counterparts. In any case, I really dislike evangelism, or even just people who feel the need to tell me about the role of God in their life and mine. She invites me to have coffee with her but it is lunchtime, and I claim that I am on my way to meet my husband, and must be off. For some reason her demeanor, though ostensibly pleasant, is so unnerving that I am disconcerted for quite a while, and keep feeling the need to look over my shoulder and check that she is not following me. This type of thing often seems to happen to me or someone in my family when we are on trips. No matter where we go, we find ourselves placed into close proximity with crazy people, religious types, or crazy religious types, forced to endure awkward, uncomfortable, and unwelcome conversations. In this case, despite my discomfort, I am intrigued enough to ponder what variety of Christian this woman is, and whether zealots like her are common in the area.
On our last evening in Bielefeld, just before bed, we are exposed to one last entertaining bit of German culture that is an amusing contrast to the religious nutter (as the Brits would say). While flipping through the television—which receives regular, run-of-the-mill cable—we encounter not one, but two stations in which topless women are fondling or licking their breasts. In one case, there is some sort of television (game?) show that involves four topless women in g-strings and high heels, who for some reason periodically grope each other’s very fake bosoms. In the other case, there is a channel with an endless string of ads for various sex-oriented phone numbers that can be called for a good time; while, in the US and the UK, that “good time” might be indicated by a sluttily-dressed young hottie posing and strutting suggestively, in Germany the hottie is sluttily undressed and is involved in masturbatory foreplay—all on public television, and it’s not even midnight yet:
(A picture of our TV; the censor bar is mine, not the Germans')
One of the many things you often hear about Germans is that, though they may be tidy and proper during the day, they can be quite deviant and naughty by night. Other than this brief example, we have not seen much evidence of this, though some of our friends at the conference did see a very provocative sex shop in the otherwise “family-friendly” airport terminal. This is certainly very unlike anything I would find in my rather repressed homeland, though I hear that it is relatively mild compared to what can be experienced in other European countries, such as Sweden. I suppose that is something I will have to discover in future travels.