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Basel Music Museum opens in former prison

Spiral horns are just some of the instruments in the collection.

A new museum opens its doors in Basel on Saturday, in a rather unconventional setting: the former Lohnhof prison, which closed in 1995 after 160 years.

Former cells have been converted into a series of 27 exhibition spaces, but the character of the prison has been kept intact. The small doorways, the barred windows and the wooden floors are original.

Each cell houses a touch-screen allowing visitors to learn more about the instruments and to listen to over 200 pieces of music. The information is given in French, German and English.

The museum’s curators have divided their collection by theme, with each housed on a different floor of the building. Starting on the ground floor with “Music in Basel”, visitors head up through “Concerto, Chorale and Dance” to “Parade, Celebration and Signals”.

The Music Museum is the fourth privately funded historical venue to open in Basel since 1996. It joins the Tinguely Museum, the Beyeler Museum, and Dolls’ House Museum.

However, unlike these institutions, it is not the product of a private collection. The more than 2,000 instruments in the collection belong to canton Basel itself.

Owing to the lack of a venue the instruments have been moved eight times in the past 120 years. The plan to turn the Lohnhof prison into the collection’s permanent home also experienced a number of setbacks due to financial problems.

But thanks to two sponsors, both now deceased, the project was able to go ahead. Jenny von Lerber-Sarasin bequeathed SFr5 million ($2.79 million), and Paul Sacher SFr1 million.

Contributions from the Keller Foundation, the Basel Historical Museum Association and the Jenny Adèle Burckhardt Foundation allowed the museum to reach the SFr8 million required.

Adapted by the Basel architects Morger and Degelo, the former prison building also houses a hotel, restaurant and jazz club.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR