During the 12th century Slavic tribes as well as incoming Germanic groups occupied the area of the modern city of Berlin. Towards the end of the 12th century, a small village was established some twenty kilometers to the south-west of the early villages of Berlin and Cölln on the River Spree. There is still ongoing debate whether the Village in Düppel was a Germanic settlement, or if it was also influenced by Slavic traditions.
Although the settlement in Düppel was discovered already in 1939, it was only in 1967 that archaeologists began excavating the site. The village was almost excavated to its full extent, which is why the idea was born to re-build the houses posthole by posthole. Today the reconstructed houses form a u-shaped village setup around a picturesque common. The Village Museum Düppel (“Museumsdorf Düppel”) is a hidden, green oasis on the edge of a modern capital city.
The Village Museum Düppel is renowned for its active volunteers, who bring the medieval village to life with a variety of craft activities and experiments through their longstanding commitment. At the weekends, visitors can experience how ceramic vessels are made, how the smith produces artefacts made from iron, how willow baskets are made as well as the production of pitch and tar. Over one hundred articles have been published, containing activities and experiments carried out by the different groups in Düppel. Domestic animals, especially old breeds, are also a special research focus in Düppel. The “Düppeler Weideschweine” are a recognized breed of pigs, who look similar to what medieval pigs might have looked like. The nine hectares of the museum area are also used to grow and experiment with different crops and forest types. Special events around the year invite the visitors to experience festive occasions, themed workshops and living history groups. The products of the museum are sold in the Museum shop.
The Museum Village Düppel belongs to the City Museum Berlin, which is responsible for the day to day running as well as the strategic planning and development of the site. An association made up about 800 members of which around fifty are active throughout the season, is responsible for the presentation of the medieval everyday life through living history and craft demonstrations as well as organizing donations for the upkeep of the historic houses.
Houses built from wood and clay do not have as long a lifespan as houses made from stone or brick. Especially when they are not heated on a day to day basis, the natural decay sets in a lot faster. This is why archaeological reconstructions in open air museums need regular upkeep and rebuilding, a time consuming enterprise. As all visible aspects of the houses need to be worked with authentic tools and materials for the medieval period, the know-how needed for the upkeep of the houses is very specialized. Not only the houses, but also the skills necessary for building them need to be collected and preserved as immaterial heritage. This is why a historical building site at the Museum Village Düppel is such an interesting project.
One of the houses at Museum Village Düppel needed a new roof quite urgently. Till lst year, all roofs were thatched with reeds, however in order to make the visitors understand better that the roof covering is open to interpretation, as it was not discovered during the archaeological excavations, the museum wanted to show different types of roofs. As part of this project, the roof of one of the smaller houses has been covered with wood shingles. Volunteers learned to work with medieval tools, taking off bark of thin beams to renew the sub-roof construction. To cover the roof, shingles were layered onto the sub construction and fixed with wooden nails. Volunteers have been able to take part in every step of the process, learning to rebuild an entire roof the medieval way.
The houses are not only made from wood, walls and floors are also made from clay. In order to experience the whole repertoire of medieval house building, there was also a clay project. Working with clay is always fun, the mixing can be done with bare feet. The techniques for different wall types and a rammed earth floor are subtly different.
Wood and clay working specialists shared their experience and knowledge with the volunteers, passing on old techniques and therefore helping to keep them alive.
The project has been organised by European Heritage Volunteers, in collaboration with Museum Village Düppel as a part of the City Museum Berlin.