Friday, December 12, 2014

2014 Germany Trip - Medieval Crime Museum (Mittelalterliches Kriminalmuseum)

Location: Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany

Itinerary and full experience of my visit to Germany can be accessed through the link below:

I have visited a number of museums in Germany, but none as bizarre as Kriminalmuseum. It wasn't difficult to know that this is a museum dedicated to medieval crimes and laws, even with limited grasp of German. I wondered briefly what such a museum could show me and whether there were opportunities for my camera. After a brief internal struggle, I decided to give it a try anyway.

I remembered that the museum was heralded as one of the main attractions of Rothenburg, on par with Plönlein, in most tourist guidebooks. From the outside, the architecture was not impressive in the slightest but what in front told a different story. A large cage with wheels dominated the space outside of the entrance, and it could be observed past the gate that there was another cage in midair, held on the end of a long boom.  As if those were not enough to induce fear, beyond the entrance stood the icon of the museum, a cabinet the height of an adult and an eerily emotionless face of a lady. This was the Iron Maiden, a medieval torture device used in most brochures of the museum. Expecting some seriously frightening experience, I paid an entrance fee of €5 and entered the museum tentatively.

Cage in the air

Only need a few circling vultures to complete the picture...

The cage for transporting criminals blended in well with the bicycles...


This is one of the most photographed items on the museum's outdoor, along with the box cage on wheels and the dunking cage. The pillory is a punishment by humiliation, by placing the criminal's head and hands locked into the plank and placed in public places.

Entrance to the museum

Replica of replica of Iron Maiden (no, the second 'replica' is not a typo)

Lobby of the museum

I was led down a tunnel to an underground chamber as if descending into a cave. The chamber was dimly lit and the various exhibits of crime and punishment enhanced the impression of bringing back the Dark Ages into the museum. It was in this chamber where I realized that the museum was an exhibition of medieval laws and life rather than simply about punishment and torture although the latter seemed to be the main reason which drew the most attention. After all what could invoke the image of the Dark Ages more than torture devices?

Winding through the various exhibition rooms and their displays reinforced my notion that the main theme here was about laws governing medieval life. Torture devices were not as numerous in the museum as I originally expected. Whether that was because most of them were not collected here is as good as anybody's guess.


Law of torture

However dark the medieval period were, they still need to abide by the law. This book illustrates legally regulated method of performing torture and when it can be used. Torture for extracting statement for jurisdiction purposes can only be performed in teh presence of judicial persons.

Displays of torture devices

Armed text

My impression of medieval life was not favorable - they were usually short and harsh, and any misbehavior or disobedience would be severely punished. Disobeying the church? Die! Disobeying the king? Die! Laws which governed the punishments and extraction of statement usually involved tortures even though they were written as if it made sense. Not sure if the person was guilty? Torture him until he relented to prove he was guilty. Otherwise if he didn't die from the torture he would be innocent. Modern life, in comparison, is really a lot better off.

Some of the punishments were generally well known although the crime leading to it was less so. One of the exhibits which i recognized easily was a pillory - an instrument comprising of 2 pieces of wood which when locked together contained 3 holes meant to secure the criminal's head and hands. This allowed the criminal to be placed under lock in public places such as market squares so that citizens could jeer at him and throw rotten perishables at him.

Crimes and punishment

Drunk tank

This is a punishment of humiliation by parading the man in a barrel, punishing him for being drunk and unruly.

Baker's baptism

Although that was the name of the punishment given on the display, online searches called this "ducking stool", which in this case, was a cage rather than a stool. The offender, usually dishonest baker or brewer selling less amount at the same price, would be exposed and humiliated while being dunked into the river and lifted up repeatedly.



The Iron Maiden was of course one of the main exhibits here, an icon used to promote the museum. Long spikes lined the internal of the cabinet reminiscent of a mummy's sarcophagus. I got goosebumps just imagining what would happen if the criminal was placed within and the spikes on the hinged front was pushed into the body.

However my search online shed surprising revelations on it - it could have been a hoax which never existed or used in the past. If it was to be believed, the instrument could have been pieced together from artifacts found in museums to create a spectacular exhibit for commercial display purposes. The most famous one was in Nuremberg, possibly first displayed in 1802, but bombings on the city led to its lost. The one displayed in the museum had its own impressive history as well. It was a replica of the Nuremberg version crafted for display and was sold to the UK, later auctioned off and finally displayed in Kriminalmuseum.

Garrote - an execution device where the condemned was bound to the seat and the metal band looped around his neck. By slowly rotating the screw at the back, the band is tightened, thus strangulating the condemned. A variant was used in a James Bond movie, The World Is Not Enough, where an additional metal rod was placed behind the neck. Instead of tightening the band, the screw pushed the rod forward and with the neck unable to move forward due to the band, the neck could be broken and the windpipe crushed at the same time.

Couldn't remember what this wheel with coils of rope was for but the cold cavern housing could be a little eerie if you were alone there...

Being a place which exhibits torture and execution devices, Kriminalmuseum was not generally recommended for kids, unless you wanted to strike fear unto them for misbehaving. However the museum did place notice in sections to warn visitors of what lied beyond the door so that even the faint-hearted could avoid the area. This would beat the purpose of even entering Kriminalmuseum but to each his own.

Not all displays were troubling though. Some of the punishments were exhibited in tiny clay figurine enclosed in glass displays, reducing the horror induced if a real-life instrument was displayed. The punishments were less severe in these displays, usually involving public humiliation such as being paraded in shrew's fiddle or being dunked into the river in a ducking stool.

Kriminalmuseum was not just about tortures and crimes; it was a museum of law. Scribbled texts were quite numerous in the museum, granting a glimpse into what governed medieval life although all of them were in medieval Latin. There were also some weights for standardizing the measurement system to allow for a fair purchase.

Class is starting

Classroom punishments, children beware

This display is much more familiar, showing various punishments employed in a medieval classroom for misbehaving children, most of them still employed today.


Ceremonial swords

These instruments are more ornately decorated than usual counterparts, and are used only for ceremonial purposes.

For Kriminalmuseum to not include execution devices and related exhibits would be inappropriate. Some of these death dealing devices surprised me, revealing my ignorance of history. I was familiar with execution swords and guillotine, having encounter them in books and movies, but to find out that the executor's mask was really a mask rather than a black piece of cloth was something new for me. The mask, complete with a tanned hood to cover the head fully, was unnerving in every sense.

Executioner's sword

Executioner's mask
The mask is usually depicted in comics as a simple black cloth with holes for eyes, but this is the first time I saw one with a face. The executioner's mask is meant to protect the deliverer of death from the "evil stares" of the condemned.


The building did not look huge from the outside, but due to its utilization of underground space, it was larger on the inside. A tour around took me close to 2 hours but that was because I was busy snapping photos; a casual visitor could finish it less than that, maybe even within an hour.

After the horror and despair faced within the museum, the cafe and souvenir store housed in another low building provided much needed relief. Crossing a distance to the building, I found that the upper levels of this exit building were also open for visit although the contents were less impressive. The floors were employed as galleries, offering drawings for viewing and some crafted model of buildings to show how they were used in the past.

Ducking cage

Cafe and souvenirs




In hindsight, the museum does provide museum hunters a glimpse into what we seldom thought about - life, law and punishments in medieval periods. However if you are not a keen visitors of museums and just looking for impressive displays to take a photo, you could just take photos with the pillory on the outside and skip the museum totally. Having said that, I personally found the experience gratifying, improving my ignorance on life in the past and feeling more grateful of my comparatively better modern life.

Environment:         A museum showing medieval life and 
Suitable for:            History buffs
Visit worthiness:   6/10 (good if you are interested to know the laws of crime and punishment in medieval Europe, as well as the ways they were tortured and punished)
Historical value:         5.0/5.0 
Architectural value:  1.0/5.0
Photographic value:  3.0/5.0
Landmark value:        3.0/5.0

Entrance Fee:                 adults:                               € 5.00
                                              seniors:                             € 4.00
                                              students:                           € 3.50
                                              pupils, children:               € 3.00 
                                              children under 6:             free
                                              groups over 20 persons: €4.00- 
                                              family card:                      €13.00

Opening Hours:             (Jan, Feb):    daily 2.00 - 4.00 p.m.
                                              (Mar):           daily 1.00 to 4.00 p.m.
                                              (Apr):            daily 11.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m.
                                              (May - Oct): daily 10.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m.
                                              (Nov):            daily 2.00 to 4.00 p.m.
                                              (Dec):             daily 1.00 to 4.00 p.m.
                                              Last entry:    45 minutes before closing
Best Moment to Visit:  May to Oct, when the museum has the longest opening hours
Length of Visit:              1 - 2 hours

Website:                   Official homepage of Kriminalmuseum

Contact:                    +49 (0) 9861 5359
Address:                   Mittelalterliches Kriminalmuseum, Burggasse 3, 91541 Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany.


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