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Stuffed frogs and sewing machines: Switzerland’s strangest museums

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Stuffed frogs and sewing machines: Switzerland’s strangest museums
Switzerland's stuffed frog museum. Photo: Swiss Tourism
10:29 CEST+02:00
It may be a small country, but Switzerland has a lot of museums.
According to the government’s first official study, released last year, there are a total of 1,111 museums across the country which together attracted over 12 million visitors in 2015, the last year for which figures are available. 
 
While many are dedicated to standard themes like history, art and technology – others are, shall we say, a little more obscure. 
 
From Lausanne’s display of 5,000 years of shoes to Zurich’s waxwork collection of diseased body parts (yes, really), The Local takes a look the weirdest museums in Switzerland that you might just find bizarrely fascinating.
 
 
Originally opened in 1927 but renovated a couple of years ago, this truly surreal museum in Estavayer-le-Lac presents a collection of 108 stuffed frogs displayed in scenes from everyday life in the 19th century. They were created by Francois Perrier, a former soldier who took a fancy to frog taxidermy. His froggy scenes depict the unfortunate creatures in multiple scenes including in the schoolroom, playing cards and as soldiers in the army. One shows frogs sitting around a banqueting table while another sees a frog riding a (stuffed, obviously) squirrel. 
 
Sewing machine museums 
 
Switzerland was the birthplace of the first hemstitch sewing machine in 1893 (by the founder of the Bernina sewing machine company), so it’s perhaps not surprising that the country has not just one but two museums dedicated to sewing machines.
 
In Fribourg, the Swiss Sewing Machine Museum lays on guided tours in English of its 250 sewing machines displayed in the 12th century cellar of the building in the city’s Old Town. Or head to the Grundtal, near the village of Dürnten in the canton of Zurich, to view the private collection of Roni Schmied which consists of several hundred antique sewing machines, accessories and related objects.
 
Swiss Customs Museum
 
Reachable by ferry from Lugano, and just a stone's throw from the Italian border, the Swiss Customs Museum in the canton of Ticino shines a light on the murky world of customs and smuggling. The institution is housed in a former border post and part of the building is dedicated to a reconstruction of life for the border guards who were once based here.
 
Beck Typewriter and Office Machine Museum 
 
Typewriter nerds (and, yes, there are some) will find themselves in their element at this museum in Pfäffikon, which boasts 400 antique typewriters and Curta calculators – the smallest mechanical calculators in the world, dating from the 1940s – as well as slide rules and other office tools.
 
Schwingermuseum 
 
Swiss wrestling. Photo: Christof Sonderegger/Swiss Tourism
 
The traditional sport of Schwingen, or Swiss wrestling, is a big deal in rural Switzerland and the late Karl Meli is one of the sport’s legends having been crowned king of the Schwingers twice in the 1960s. This small museum in Winterthur was created by his daughter and fellow Schwinger Irène to celebrate not only her father’s achievements but the sport as a whole. 
 
Shoe Museum
 
A ‘working’ museum created by a leather-worker, this place in Lausanne takes visitors through 5,000 years of shoe history using exhibits created on site – namely, reconstructions of European footwear from prehistoric times to the pre-industrial era.
 
Museum HR Giger
 
This museum in the beautiful medieval town of Gruyères is dedicated to the fantastic artwork of Swiss artist Giger, who is best known for having dreamed up the creatures for the 'Alien' films. It features paintings and sculptures and even furniture he designed.
 
Museum of Music Boxes
 
The music box was invented by a Swiss, Antoine Favre-Salomon, in 1796. By the 19th century the village of Sainte-Croix in the canton of Vaud was home to over 40 companies producing mechanical music boxes. This unusual heritage is captured in this museum displaying antique music boxes, singing birds and other mechanical music devices. All visits are guided in French unless you prearrange an English tour.
 
Moulagenmuseum
 
Not for the squeamish, this Zurich museum presents 3D waxworks of diseased body parts. Created as a research facility for medical students at the University of Zurich, its exhibits are disturbingly true to life, showing age spots, eczema, leprosy and other skin diseases in all their gory glory. 
 
Swiss Miniature
 
Photo: Swiss Miniature
 
Pretty well-known in Switzerland, this open-air museum near Lugano presents the country’s famous monuments in miniature. Its more than 120 models include castles, cable cars, town halls, famous hotels, restaurants and mountain cabins from all over the country. And, being mini Switzerland, there’s also a 3,560m model railway allowing a mini Glacier Express train to travel through the park. More bizarrely, one of its more recent additions is a mini Titanic.
 
Telephone Museum
 
This place in Islikon takes visitors through the history of telecommunications via 760 exhibits from all over the world. See the device used by divers back in 1933, the first answering machine from 1898 and one of Switzerland’s early fax machines, a 20kg number dating from 1982. Fascinating stuff for comms geeks. 
 
A version of this article originally appeared in The Local in April 2017.
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