Amsterdam is a city of museums – over 50 and counting – some of which are, rightly, world famous. Art pundits love the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, kids love the NEMO, countless adults slip into the Venustempel and the Erotic Museum. But within an easy walking or public transport distance of many an Amsterdam city hotel are museums catering for visitors with stranger tastes. Pianolas? Fluorescent objects? Embryos? Step inside.
Het Nationaal Brilmuseum
The National Museum of Spectacles is situated above an old-fashioned optician shop, which is itself like a museum – the building dates back to 1620 and the owners have kept it in fantastic condition. Seven hundred years of eyeglass history are on display over two floors, from old pieces to delight the history and nostalgia lover right up to those showing the influence of modern trend-setters like John Lennon. The collection owes its existence to four generations of collecting passion in the Theunissen family, whose interest dates back to the 19th century. Additionally, the museum’s shop sells glasses in all kinds of styles that draw on the history outlined in the exhibits ceramic smoking pipes.
Many guests at an Amsterdam city hotel enjoy music with their dinner. How about some musical history? Pianolas, sometimes known as honky-tonk pianos after the Tonk Brothers production company in New York, were mechanical pianos invented in the USA in 1894 and popular into the early 20th century. They reproduced music using carton rolls with punched holes for each note and were also used to record music. Stravinsky, Hindemith, Milhaud and other important composers wrote music specifically for it. The Pianola Museum houses an exquisite collection of pianolas, including an adapted Steinway grand piano and 20,000 pianola paper rolls, and on some days visitors can take in a concert.
Fluorescent Art Museum
Connoisseurs of fine art might raise an eyebrow at the Fluorescent Art Museum, tucked down a side street between two canals in the old Jordaan district, but those who venture into this cellar museum will find a strange and wonderful display. Visitors must put soft slippers over their shoes, as if in an old Eastern European museum, and descend into a space a little like a cave, if caves were full of quite so many fluorescent objects and installations. This vibrant, fun exhibit is well worth the easy journey from your Amsterdam city hotel.
Pipe smoking has a venerable history in Amsterdam, with 17th century ceramic pipes considered valuable archaeological finds. The Pijpenkabinet’s collection consists of 20,000 pipes, of which an abridged selection is displayed in the museum, including pre-Columbian pipes, Native North American and South American pipes, opium pipes, African pipes and European pipes through to the present day, as well as related objects. The museum is perfect for the pipe smoker in the family or anyone with an interest in this domestic, social and ritual aspect of world history. While you can no longer smoke your pipe in your Amsterdam city hotel, it is possible to do so in the Pijpenkabinet – a rare and atmospheric luxury.
While many of the above museums are quite pleasantly bizarre, this one deals in the grotesque: human remains preserved in jars. The museum is part of the University of Amsterdam’s Academic Medical Centre, so the remains are kept for scientific benefit as well as public curiosity. The collection originates from the private collection of Professor Gerardus Vrolik (1755-1859) and his son Professor Willem Vrolik (1801-1863), and has been added to over the years, now encompassing animal specimens, pathological bones, dental artefacts and 150 specimens of congenital malformations – in layman’s terms, that’s deformed embryos in jars. If you fancy venturing away from your Amsterdam city hotel and the more familiar sights, the Museum Vrolik will no doubt be an outing to remember.