A museum where it’s Easter every day
It all started with Adam and Eve: two small, long-eared ornaments that laid the foundation for what has become Switzerland's only rabbit museum.
The collection, in Bubikon near Zurich, belongs to Gertrud Pürro, once a breeder of real rabbits. Adam and Eve were a gift from her husband back in 1977.
“I thought they looked lonely, so I would get them some friends,” she explained, and it wasn’t long before she was hooked. Rabbits are famously prolific; she now has five and a half thousand.
“I’m not collecting any more,” she told swissinfo. “I have no more room. It would have to be something really special. Then I’d find a space.”
So speaks the true collector, and it is hard to believe she can ever really let go.
“I’m not always searching, but I always see,” she says, explaining how her collection grew over the years.
Pürro has amassed her rabbits through a mixture of persistence, skill and luck, and with some help from unexpected quarters.
Sometimes she has snapped up bargains, like one she saw on the internet auction website eBay.
Simply described as “Little hare on a motorbike. Sweet,” she recognised it as a collector’s item and got it for next to nothing.
Sometimes she goes to nail-biting auctions, bracing herself to fight off other collectors for a rabbit she has her heart set on.
This was the case with one of the larger rabbits in the museum, originally made for a shop window display.
“I didn’t know how popular ex-display rabbits were. The people at the auction house warned me it wouldn’t be cheap. When I finally got it, a man I knew in the room came over, patted my shoulder and said, ‘Pay, take it home, forget the money and enjoy.'”
And that is a motto she has lived by.
“When I realised I would rather have something I really liked than a few hundred more francs in the bank, that was a turning point,” she explained.
Her very favourite rabbit, a large white and red one from Steiff, the famous German manufacturer, had to be a snap decision, but was one she has never regretted.
“A dealer told me she had something special I might be interested in. She said, ‘I’m off to Germany tomorrow. If he goes with me, I can promise you he won’t come back.'”
After some hasty research she went to Zurich, fell in love and agreed a price. Joseph – her favourite rabbits all have names – now sits prominently on a windowsill. He dates from 1920, and visitors tell her there isn’t even one in the official Steiff museum.
Another favourite, Kurt, sits sprawled at a dinner table amidst cutlery decorated with rabbits, rabbit decorations on his plate, a rabbit napkin and napkin ring, wine with rabbits on the label, and even rabbits on his tie and waistcoat.
He’s a favourite with visitors too. “One day a parcel came addressed to Mr Kurt, and it contained two small bottles of liqueur – with rabbits on, of course,” she said.
Toilet paper and banknotes
Visitors to the museum have sometimes contributed to the collection, or given her tips. After looking around the bathroom display – rabbit soap, rabbit shampoo, rabbit toothbrush and toothbrush holder, rabbit sticking plaster, rabbit shower curtain and bath mat, rabbit toilet brush, rabbit toilet paper holder – a woman came and told her that one of the Swiss supermarket chains was stocking rabbit toilet paper.
“I went to the nearest branch. They had four packets. When I left they didn’t have any.”
One day an elderly lady presented her with an unusual rabbit embroidery. “It was about a hundred years old. Her children wanted to throw it out, so she asked if I’d like it. It’s always nice to have unique items,” she said.
Some items were made especially for the museum. Pürro once asked a woman selling traditional Russian nesting dolls at a Christmas fair if she had any nesting rabbits.
She said she didn’t, but would go home and experiment. The next year she was back. The rabbit’s sticking-up ears meant that there was room for only one inside the other – but it is a unique piece.
On the wall hangs a unique Turkish carpet covered in rabbits that Pürro challenged a specialised shop to produce.
Collecting is infectious, and strangers are often ready to help. Pürro has a collection of stamps and phone cards featuring rabbits, but she was unable to track down any bank notes, until a friend rang and said she’d seen a financial report on TV and noticed there were rabbits on rouble notes.
The Russian bank in Zurich denied all knowledge – but suggested Belarus.
Bingo! A kind diplomat offered to save her the trip to Minsk by promising to bring one back from his holidays – which he duly did.
A rabbit telephone, a rabbit sundial, rabbit lawn sprinklers, rabbit safety pins, rabbit pasta shapes, rabbit corkscrews, rabbit nutcrackers, rabbit candles, rabbit lampshades… Singing rabbits, talking rabbits, rabbits who turn somersaults…
“Cats and dogs are much more popular. But you wouldn’t believe how many things you can get as rabbits,” says Pürro.
swissinfo, Julia Slater in Bubikon
The Christian festival of Easter succeeded the pagan spring festival, which celebrated the return of earth’s fertility.
In the English-speaking world the furry animal with long ears, such as is given as a toy to children, is regarded as a rabbit; in the German-speaking world it is a hare (Hase).
Rabbits, as prolific breeders, are a natural symbol of spring.
German-speakers say it is the Easter hare which brings Easter eggs.
The Rabbit Museum, or Hasenmuseum in German, is in Bubikon, in Canton Zurich.
It is open on the last Sunday of the month (except December) and on Easter Monday from 1300-1800, and on the last Wednesday of the month from 1400-1800.
Entrance is SFr7 for adults and SFr5 for children aged 6-16.
In compliance with the JTI standards