More background info:
The making of wax models (moulages) of body parts showing the effects of certain diseases has a long history, going back to the 18th century (see Palazzo Poggi
). In the case of Zürich, the technique was introduced to its medical university in 1918, when Lotte Volger began supplying such models, which are of a very high quality, realistic and true to colour. The exact technique she used was not written down but kept a secret and passed on to Volger’s successors orally only. It wasn’t until 1998 that it was finally revealed.
Initially the models were used only for educational and scientific presentation purposes, in lectures or for students’ self-study.
As colour photography and later digital technologies advanced, the wax models were slowly deemed old-fashioned and banished to storage boxes in the university’s basement.
Later, their historical value was reassessed, and some 600 of the university’s collection of ca. 2000 wax models was put on display in the current museum and thus made accessible to the general public. But students still use them as well (also outside the public opening times).
The technique of making moulages was revived too, and today new ones are again being made in Zürich.
What there is to see: hundreds of medical wax models, with a focus on dermatological and venereal diseases.
There are text panels with more or less detailed explanations of what is depicted, but these are all in German only. However, a number of QR codes added to the glass display cases allow smartphone users access to translations into English stored online. These work very well.
It’s impossible to go through all the details of the vast number of conditions covered in the museum; but a few “highlights” of especially disturbing exhibits include those illustrating smallpox and a number of venereal diseases of the genitals (male as well as female), including syphilis.
Also covered are various diseases transmitted through viruses or parasites one can pick up during travels in exotic countries – so that’s particularly unnerving for travel addicts such as myself.
But the one exhibit that stands out the most in my memory is that of wax model of a baby with “scalded skin syndrome”. This is caused by bacteria called ‘Staphylococcus aureus’ that disrupt the linkage between the horny cells of the skin leading to rapid destruction of the epidermis. It affects especially infants with a 50% mortality rate. The informal name comes from the look of the skin like what you’d get from burning with boiling water. And indeed the full-body model on display does look like it’s a baby that’s been dipped into scalding hot water.
In addition to the freely accessible items in the glass display cabinets, there are additional library cabinets where visitors or students can access yet more items.
just off Universitätsstrasse at the following address: Haldenbachstrasse 14, 8091 Zürich
; on the ground floor of a modern university building.
Access and costs: quite restricted opening times; but free entry
Details: The museum is not too tricky to locate, but you have to time your visit well, given the very restricted opening times.
To get there from the city centre you can use tram lines 9 or 10 and get out at Haldenbach. The museum is just round the corner.
Opening times: only on Wednesdays from 2 to 6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 1 to 5 p.m.
Guided tours of one hour duration can be arranged too (info[at]moulagen.ch) and cost 120 CHF per group.
Note that no photography is allowed in the exhibition.
Time required: depends on whether you can read German and how deep your interest in the medical details is. I spent a good half hour in the museum, but some will want to have longer.
Combinations with other dark destinations: see under Zürich
Combinations with non-dark destinations: see under Zürich