Two weeks ago I visited the Ballenberg Open Air Museum, a place that had long been on my list of architectural places to see.
These types of open air museums, which are quite common in Europe, present wonderful opportunities to see a full range of architectural styles and be close enough to compare and contrast them. Though preservationists often shudder at the thought of moving buildings – their context, their context!! – we also have to admit that sometimes moving buildings is the only way to save them.
When they are curated as well as they are at Ballenberg, the buildings and their stories are preserved, and that’s a good thing. Such museums also generate jobs for building conservation specialists, also a good thing!
Ballenberg Open Air Museum covers 66 hectares and contains approximately 100 buildings from all the regions of Switzerland. For such a small country, the styles are quite diverse, reflecting the variety of cultural influences that you see in the country even today.
Ballenberg also affords opportunity to examine architectural details – both construction and ornamental – up up close. I really enjoyed being able to go into farmhouses similar to those I’ve sped by on the train and understand how their interior spaces are arranged.
Ballenberg is extremely well maintained. It was also nice to see that they stick to their principles – a house that burned is left as a foundation ruin since they do not want to introduce new materials into the scene.
The museum offers plenty for industrial heritage fans, with fully functioning dairies, lime kilns, mills, and more, with demonstrations throughout the day. I stayed and watched the water-powered sawmill for a good 20 minutes; it was fascinating to see how a single person could maneuver and cut the massive logs into planks.
A number of artisanal products are produced and available, from weaving, to sausage, cheese and bread making, and – most important for me – chocolate. It is in Switzerland after all!
If You Go:
Ballenberg is located in central Switzerland, easily accessible by car and public transportation. The museum is open year round. Interpretation is in German, French, Italian and English. For information see ballenberg.ch.