Museum für Völkerkunde Hamburg
Hinterglasmalerei; Rumänien; Anfang 19. Jh. Foto: Brigitte Claaßen

The museum possesses of the largest collection of European ethnology in Europe, which has been steadily growing over the course of 150 years. Starting expecially in the beginning of the 20th century, inventory has been acquired on extensive collecting trips in different regions.
Arthur Byhan, the first full-time director of the formerly named “Eurasiatic department”, undertook collecting trips to Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, Russia, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia and Sardinia. The ethnologist and dealer in ethnographica, Julius Konietzko, assembled extensive collections from the Scandinavian Lapps, as well as from Finland, Ireland, Scotland, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Switzerland. In 1927, two exceptional collections – one of charms belonging to the Hamburg optometrist Siegfried Seligmann as well as the invaluable Icelandic collection of Hans Kuhn – passed into possession of the museum.

Consisting of more than 3,000 pieces of ceramic and pottery equipment accumulated since the 1970s, the Spanish collection is the most extensive one outside of Spain.

Easter and Christmas tradition

Other highlights include the collection concerning ancient Easter and Christmas customs donated by Maud Pohlmeyer. She gave nearly 1,200 objects relating to Easter to the museum in 1981. The approximately 700 items concerning Christmas around the world, were acquired in 1986 with the financial support of the “Verein Freunde des Museums für Völkerkunde Hamburg e. V.” In recent years, participants of Easter and Christmas markets have continuously expanded this important collection of items concerning ancient Christian customs.

Other important recent acquisitions include the excellently documented collections of Marianne and Peter Reinicke (on Sweden) and Kaarina Dehls (on Finland). An extensive and unique “Dragon archive” was developed between 1993 and 1995 and is still regularly expanded. In 1996, the museum received a diverse collection on 19th century religious folklore from the village Großenwörden in the district of Stade.

The skull of Gall

Among the most famous single objects of the European collection are the Jewish Mappot and so-called “skull of Gall” (“Gall’sche Schädel”). The Mappot was endowed to the Temple in Halberstadt to honour the birth of Mordecai Gimpel and was donated to the museum in 1917. The Gall’sche Schädel originates from 1812 and is named after the German physician Franz Joseph Gall (1757-1828). Gall initially worked as physician in Austria and later gained a reputation as a neuroscientist in Paris. He held the view that the brain consisted of single autonomous organs that were responsible for the diverse character traits and abilities of human beings. The specific positions of these organs are painted onto the skull that had been part of Gall’s collection for research and teaching.


The Northern Asian collection is most famous for its Siberian shamanism artefacts. The exhibits come from the 19th to the beginning of the 20th century. A valuable shaman costume from a grave of a Soyot shaman from the modern Tuwa-(Altai) region is among these artefacts. The robe, cut in the shape of a bird’s tail and made of reindeer skin, is draped with many coloured cloth streamers: these represent the spirits that aid the shaman. The robe dates back to 1900 and was acquired by the museum in 1910.


Prof. Dr. Bernd Schmelz
phone: 040. 42 88 79 – 502 / – 508
fax: 040. 42 88 79 – 242

Currently, selected artefacts of the collection are on display in our exhibition DAS GEMEINSAME HAUS EUROPA.