If you want to see volcanoes in Bavaria, which is otherwise quite tectonically calm, you could drive to the Rauhen Kulm or to the Parkstein in the northern Upper Palatinate. The last eruption in the area may have been only a few hundred thousand years ago, and the next one could be as soon as a million or two million years. But if you don’t want to wait that long, you can try it in Rosenheim in Upper Bavaria from Friday. In the Lokschuppen, which is one of the ten most visited exhibition venues in Germany, there is a new eruption every few minutes on a huge 90 square meter screen. The projection is part of the new exhibition, which shows exactly what the name promises: “Volcanoes”.
The Rosenheim video volcano was designed by Nicole Richter, a volcanologist at Aachen University and one of four curators of the show. Richter’s specialty is keeping an eye on such potentially fire-breathing mountains with satellites from space. She designed the eruption in the locomotive shed using the example of the Canary Islands, where the Cumbre Vieja erupted on La Palma in 2021.
What that meant for the people there can be found out in Rosenheim at media stations in interviews conducted on the island last year by engine shed manager Jennifer Morscheiser and science author and co-curator Holger von Neuhoff. Otherwise, however, the power, the threatening and the beauty of the volcanoes can be experienced in the locomotive shed from that safe distance, which the aesthetes see as a prerequisite for the feeling of sublimity.
The Rosenheim exhibition organizers also need drums and trumpets as a soundtrack to the eruption. The fact that they hit the drums a bit is not unfamiliar to the exhibitions in the Lokschuppen, because they are supposed to be popular. The volcanoes should attract as many as 175,000 visitors by December. There were 135,000 at the previous “Ice Age” show, which was partly still taking place under Corona-related difficulties. At the exit, visitors to the engine shed can say what they want as a topic and which exhibition they would like to visit. Morscheiser, head of the locomotive shed, says that only if a topic meets with at least 80 percent approval does it have a chance of being exhibited. The result looks like a safe grip on the shelf with the large white what-is-what volumes.
At the same time, the exhibitions are always state-of-the-art, which in the case of volcanoes is ensured by the two other curators in addition to Richter and Neuhoff: Martin Meschede teaches at the University of Greifswald, is President of the German Geological Society and emphasizes that without volcanoes there would be no people would exist, because without the eruptions, the earth, heated up by constant radioactive decay, would overheat so much that it would have reached at least 400 degrees on the surface. The ethnologist Christian Feest, who, among other things, directed the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna, would not disagree, but also says that without people there would be no volcanoes. “People make volcanoes what they are for us.”
The exhibition combines the natural and cultural perspectives, shows the background and subsoil of plate tectonics as well as cinema posters of volcano films and a gallery of reproduced paintings on the subject. Including one by Caspar David Friedrich, who, like his contemporaries, painted such colorful sunsets mainly because the eruption of the Indonesian Tambora in 1815 had blown so many sulfur particles around the world. However, this was followed in 1816 by the “year without a summer” with great cold, constant rain, epidemics, famine and revolts thousands of kilometers away from the site of the eruption.
Vesuvius, which buried Pompeii under lava and ash in 79, showed what can happen to people directly under the volcano. The exhibition organizers have had a Roman tavern rebuilt as it was uncovered 1800 years later in Pompeii. Why so many people still live so close to volcanoes is because of the number of both people and volcanoes – and because the soil there is fertile. On Mount Etna “the sheep are said to be fat enough to suffocate”, wrote a chronicler in the 19th century. The time until the next eruption is ticking. After more than 250 exhibits, most of them illustrations such as the impressive photos by the photographer Carsten Peter and a number of original volcanic rocks, three large pendulums swing just before the end of the Rosenheim show. The volcano in the exhibition is scheduled to erupt by December 10th, accompanied by a four-part scientific lecture series in Rosenheim.