Recently, I had the privilege of attending the 31st Annual Meeting of the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC, fondly referred to as “Spinach”) in Berlin, Germany. SPNHC is an international society whose mission is to improve the preservation, conservation, and management of natural history collections to ensure their continuing value to society. I had always wanted to attend this conference, and since I was headed in that direction for vacation anyway, I was given this fabulous opportunity to tack it on to my travels. So from June 20 to June 25, I took the plunge headfirst into the world of some pretty serious scientific collecting, as well as German culture.
Days were filled with meeting old colleagues, making new friends, and attending back-to-back sessions on topics like current standards for collections care, how to be responsible for our collections while maintaining energy efficient, green museum environments, integrated pest management, and how to move very large specimens (think 125 year-old whale specimen suspended from the ceiling).
At night we were immersed in Berlin culture, a beautiful and sometimes startling mix of old and new side by side. An easy bike tour through the city one evening led us by landmarks such as the Berlin Wall Memorial, Museum Island, Humboldt University, and even Angela Merkel’s private residence. No event was complete without a generous helping of Berlin’s famous street food, curry wurst. Yep, three nights in a row…
But the highlight of the conference for me were the times spent at the Museum fur Naturkunde, the Natural History Museum in Berlin. The Museum fur Naturkunde was established in 1810 with some of its collections dating back to the 1700s. It houses over 30 million items covering the disciplines of zoology, paleontology, geology, and mineralogy and is one of the most important collections and research-based museums in the world in terms of biodiversity.
Museum fur Naturkunde, the Natural History Museum in Berlin
To say that I was awestruck during my visits to the museum is putting it mildly. Staring up at the massive glass walls of shelving that showcase their wet specimen collection, touring behind the scenes in places where most of their 500,000 annual visitors never get to go, and spending a Saturday morning learning how to refurbish taxidermy birds under Jurgen Fiebig, one of their five award-winning staff taxidermists, reminded me of the reason I chose to be in this profession in the first place—to safeguard a record of the amazing creations of this world for future generations.
Wet Specimen Collection
Taxidermy Workshop with Jurgen Fiebig
Post written by: Cherry Johnson, Collections Manager
Cook Museum of Natural Science