Economic Miracle | An Exhibition at the German Automatenmuseum

I am very happy to share a new article from our contributing author Janneke with you today. Janneke visited a hidden champion museum for us! You might never heard of it before, but it’s really worth a visit.


Unfortunately, a museum is not a playground. Because as you enter the Deutsches Automatenmuseum (German Automaton-museum) the first thing you want do surely is push buttons and pull levels.

Parfümautomat im Deutschen Automatenmuseum | Foto: Deutsches Automatenmuseum
Parfümautomat im Deutschen Automatenmuseum | Foto: Deutsches Automatenmuseum

Besides machines that once were filled with various delicacies like chocolate, the ones that might attract the most attention are automatons like the perfume or the razor machine. The latter did not spit out razor blades, but was an automatic razor from 1969 that you could use by inserting 1 German mark. For only 10 pfenning, you could choose between the fragrances ‘Eau de Cologne’, ‘Teerose’, ‘Vanadis’ and ‘Lavendel’ manufactured by the company W. Seegner A.-G. & Co. from the 1920ies and from the Weimar Republic from a perfume automate. You just had to pay, adjust the fragrance by turning a knob and then pull a level. “The automaton then vaporizes a first-class perfume”, as a plate on the machine states. Good old times.

Blick in die Sonderausstellung “Wirtschaftswunder” | Foto: Deutsches Automatenmuseum

Since 2013, the technical museum is located next to Schloss Benkhausen in Espelkamp, which might not be the easiest to reach, but all the more picturesque. If you visit the museum make sure you get a guide to activate (some of) the automatons (for instance the Decap Robot Band, a catchy robot band from Antwerp, 1957). Apart from a special exhibition the museum permanently displays around 200 machines out of the collection of the entrepreneurial family Gauselmann that altogether includes round about 1.800 items from all over the world. And yes, the museum belongs to the entrepreneurial family that produces the famous slot machines with the little sun you know from pubs and Co. However, the museum is not focused on the company’s history, but on the representation of cultural-historical aspects in regard to the industry of coin-operated machines. You can find machines from all kind of sections: vending and services machines like the first European electric cigarette automate from 1963 (it was actually built in Espelkamp by the way), mechanical music machines like an American one from 1913 playing piano and violin at the same time and Wurlitzer jukeboxes from the 1940s, skill games as well as flippers and gambling games.

Blick in die Sonderausstellung “Wirtschaftswunder” | Foto: Deutsches Automatenmuseum

If you haven’t been to the museum before you missed the Elvis-show and also one about automatons and physical culture, but you still can visit the exhibition Wirtschaftswunder (Economic Miracle) with German machines from the 50ies and 60ies. The exhibition lets you travel into the past, into a wonderful era when due to the social market economy and economic growth the people were having a sanguine view towards the future.

Blick in die Sonderausstellung “Wirtschaftswunder” | Foto: Deutsches Automatenmuseum

Starting point is the year 1945 when living space was limited and food was rationed, through the foundation of the BRD (Federal Republic of Germany)–as well as the foundation of the Bravo magazine–, the launching of the first artificially satellite Sputnik, Elvis’ landing in Bremerhaven 1958 to the murder of Kennedy and so on. The vending machines from back then (in combination with pictures by German press photographer Josef Heinrich Darchingers who worked for magazines like the “Spiegel” or “Die Zeit”) account the increasing consumer behavior and the changes in leisure activities just like the jukeboxes brought a modern attitude of life in German pubs. The Maxim-automate (Pfronten-Ried (Allgäu), 1955) for example promised “vivid beauty in natural colors” and “3D”–for curious eyes from 16 years only. They are definitely worth their 10 pfenning. But moreover, this automaton gives you an impression of the change in the image of women at that time who were supposed to meet–among others–decorative purposes(after being ‘Trümmerfrauen’) once again. An insight in the past mentality is also given by the automate called Elektra (Bielefeld-Brackwede, 1956). It is an electrifying machine with two handles that give its player an electric shock to measure his or her ‘strength’ or rather ‘capacity for suffering’ from ‘weak’ to ‘robust’. Those machines were considered to be some kind of miracle cure and were common at faires. Well, yeah, good old times…

The exhibition is on view until 23 May 2018.

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