Romantic Road: Bavarian museum shows crime never paid

ROTHENBURG OB DER TAUBER, Germany -- Of all the sites this Bavarian village has to offer, one of the most interesting and unusual could be the Medieval Crime Museum.

Throughout four floors of displays, the museum traces 1,000 years of law and order in Germany.

On offer are a plethora of exhibits of gruesome torture devices used to punish criminals -- such as spiked chairs and stretching racks -- as well as other disciplinary tools used to reprimand those convicted of more minor offenses.

For instance, the donkey of shame was a wooden creature created as an uncomfortable seat for schoolchildren who didn't know their lessons.

And the iron maiden was the torture device that disgraced young women faced.

Several varieties of the mask of shame, each designed to fit a certain crime, are also on display.

A metal mask with giant, bugle-shaped ears and an elongated, pointy tongue, for example, was the punishment for gossipy women; the oversized tongue and ears were to show that the wearer heard all and repeated all.

And the mask of shame that resembles a wart hog was crafted for men who acted like swine. Meanwhile, citizens who committed acts that were deemed idiotic were sentenced to wear "shoes of fools," or footwear made of iron.

Even bad musicians couldn't catch a break; they were forced to stand in public with an iron shame flute around their necks.

The museum also offers some insight into what office life was like in the early part of the 20th century.

A sample office policy instructed workers that "simple clothing is law. Persons are not allowed to wear light or glittery colors and have to wear sensible socks."

It was also the employees' responsibility to look after their health, because "in case of sickness, there will be no salary, therefore it's recommended that everyone put away a part of his salary for sickness and old age."

Apparently, the boss did have a heart, as this policy was "much better than the last. For this reason, more work is expected."

Which was probably just as well, since talking was prohibited from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The museum is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., from April to October. The hours of operation from November to February are 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., and during March, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For more information, visit the museum's Web page at www.kriminalmuseum.rothenburg.de/Englisch/page1.html.

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