A tour guide shows visitors a scroll from which music is played. (Rudesheim Tourist AG/Marlis-Steinmetz)
Frescoes inside the Brömserhof, the building where Siegfried's Mechanical Musical Instrument Museum is housed. (Rudesheim Tourist AG/Marlis-Steinmetz)
Tourists can only visit the museum on a guided tour, which takes about 45 minutes. (Rudesheim Tourist AG/Marlis-Steinmetz)
The outside of the Brömserhof, the 15th-century knight’s manor where the museum is housed. (Rudesheim Tourist AG/Marlis-Steinmetz)
Gramophones on display at Siegfried's Mechanical Musical Instrument Museum. (Rudesheim Tourist AG/Marlis-Steinmetz)
The village of Rüdesheim, Germany, just before sunset. (Instamatics/iStock)
A view of the lake from a hillside vineyard, Rüdesheim, Germany. (Instamatics/iStock)

This Medieval Knight’s Manor Houses Over 350 Mechanical Musical Instruments

From tiny music boxes to the bus-sized Orchestrion, Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet in Germany’s Rhineland is the perfect musical detour

smithsonian.com

Just the fanciful name alone—Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet —may be enough to persuade curious travelers to leave Germany’s thoroughfares and visit the Rhine River town of Rüdesheim, Germany. And for those who do, the decision will be more than rewarded by the visual and auditory delights of this unusual museum 40 miles from Frankfurt.

The collection is housed in the Brömserhof, a 15th-century knight’s manor, the most impressive of the town’s aristocratic residences complete with a Gothic chapel and fresco-adorned halls. It showcases 350 mechanical instruments dating back three centuries. Think delicate music boxes, one with a chirping bird on top, or massive pipe organs, and pretty much everything in between. The extensive collection also includes tools and machines used to produce the instruments, and cardboard sheet music, roles of sheet music and perforated disks from which compositions are produced. You may even recognize a few of the old standards such “Que Sera!,” first sung by Doris Day.

The mastermind behind the eclectic collection is the museum’s namesake, Siegfried Wendel, a local music enthusiast who gathered his collection of “rescued and repaired” instruments together for the world to enjoy; he opened the museum in his hometown in 1969. Among Wendel’s repaired treasures that delight the ears are hand-cranked carnival machines, jukeboxes and gramophones, one of which needs a new a needle each time it is played for visitors.

What stops visitors in their tracks, however, is the Orchestrion - a machine  as big as a minibus with all kinds of mechanical components. It plays many of the instruments found in a traditional orchestra, from delicate violins to triumphant trombones. 

In addition to marveling at the music produced by the mechanical instruments, you may be just as impressed by the workmanship and engineering that went into making them, including the acute attention to detail found on a number of the more ornate instruments.  Look inside some of them and you will see all the working parts, or step back and watch as characters “play” the music.

Not musically inclined? No need to fret. A visit to Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet is only possible by taking a 45-minute guided tour, during which well-versed guides share the instruments’ histories and operate a few of them, filling the museum’s rooms with songs from eras gone by.

Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet is open everyday March through December, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. If you are traveling with a group and arrive in Rüdesheim after 6 p.m., tours are available upon request from 6 to 10 p.m for groups of four or more. Whatever time you plan to visit, call ahead or go online to reserve your spot for your musical detour in Rüdesheim.

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