“Our exhibition is a holistic experience”

2016 sees an anniversary that definitely needs celebrating: the Bavarian Purity Law will be 500 years old. To mark the occasion, the State Exhibition “Beer in Bavaria” will be held in Aldersbach.

I met with Dr. Riepertinger from the House of Bavarian History for an interview. He’s the Project Manager of the State Exhibition, and kindly found the time to answer a few questions for me:

A state exhibition like this, with tens of thousands of visitors expected, doesn’t get organised overnight. How should we imagine the planning process? When do you begin with the preparations, and what do they look like?

When it comes to the preparations, you have to draw a basic distinction between the exhibition itself and general construction work. We as the “House of Bavarian History” are responsible for the interior fittings in the rooms, in line with their individual concepts. We call this the “script”. Basically, these preparations take about three years. The actual erection of the exhibition then begins in early January, and the exhibits are not placed in position until about 14 days beforehand, since we’re working almost exclusively with items on loan. These are mounted, and each display case has to be meticulously planned down to the very last detail.

We have less to do with the construction work as such. Our partners are responsible for that. The “House of Bavarian History” can be seen as a kind of travelling circus, with which every year we make camp in one of Bavaria’s multitudinous regions. In the case of the State Exhibition on “Beer in Bavaria”, we’re in Aldersbach in Lower Bavaria. Our partners for this exhibition are the local council and the Aldersbach Brewery, plus Passau County Council. They look after the conversion work and the renovations.

How did Aldersbach come to be chosen as the venue for the exhibition?

This decision was taken back in early 2011. There was a competition open to the whole of Bavaria, in which around 15 local councils took part. Then a jury was chosen, and each individual venue visited beforehand. The applicants were graded in terms of their perceived strengths and weaknesses. Critical points included our expectations for visitor numbers, and also whether the ambience harmonised with the exhibition’s theme.

At Aldersbach, everything was ideal in this regard right from the start. Firstly, we’ve got a modern brewery there, so we can showcase brewing technology close by. Then, of course, you have the ambience of the ancient monastery, where beer was brewed for hundreds of years, and whose old equipment can be used as part of the exhibition. Imagine an exhibition on “Beer in Bavaria” in a modern concrete building. That would convey a total different feeling. Last but not least, one of the exhibition’s major themes is the “tavern”. Here, Aldersbach can offer its rustic “Braustüberl” taproom, which radiates snug Bavarian cosiness.

Aldersbach, then, is a holistic experience, not only for celebrating the anniversary of the Purity Law.

What is the thinking process like when you’re firming up the concept for an exhibition like this?

For creative design of the exhibition, we’re a team of 4 people. It takes a lot of work to come up with good ideas. But at the same time, as far as I’m concerned, this is the nicest phase: to get together with the team and do some unfettered brainstorming. Sometimes, of course, there are one or two really “wacky” ideas among them. You have to try some of them out and take risks. You can’t afford to be risk-averse, you have to be prepared to fail. After all, an exhibition is usually visited only once, and the visitors won’t be staying longer than one or two hours. And these visitors want to feel sure they can see the whole of the exhibition in this timeframe as well. That’s why we always provide signage at certain points detailing how much of the exhibition they’ve already seen and how much is still in front of them. We see our role at the House of Bavarian History as a service provider, and try to accompany the visitor through the exhibition as pleasantly as possible.

With every exhibition, of course, you want to offer visitors something special as well. And this is often far from easy.

Let’s look at the Purity Law, for example. Originally, we had actually been considering a magnificently ornate document. In reality, the Bavarian Purity Law is merely a short paragraph in a legislative text. It doesn’t even have a seal, which after all is basically regarded as the minimum precondition for this sort of thing. Documents like this (also referred to as “flatware”) are usually a bit boring for the visitors, too. So we have to consider “How do we manage to attract people to our exhibition as well?” We have to create excitement, so that things like this are not ignored.

The Purity Law as such, of course, is frequently a target of criticism. How far will you be addressing this in the exhibition?

We are showcasing the Purity Law and its development. As for criticisms of it, all we can do is click on them. How the Purity Law is then assessed – this is a decision reserved for the visitors themselves. In my opinion, the Purity Law is an important constituent of the “Bavarian beer” brand, and accordingly is also a reason for the wide acceptance and popularity of Bavarian beer worldwide. Of course, like every new-born child, it’s also had its teething troubles. For some of the criticisms, though, I simply don’t have the expert knowledge required, which is why I cannot and will not pronounce a verdict.

For what target group have you planned the exhibition?

Our target group is everybody! “Bier in Bavaria” is not an exhibition designed to appeal only to brewers or only academics specialising in beer. We endeavour to use texts or media to render it comprehensible and interesting for everyone. No prior knowledge should be required, but even when people with prior knowledge come along, they should also have the occasional eye-opener.

Our exhibition is aimed at the general public, which is why, for example, we have special offers for school classes. Firstly, the subject of beer and school is difficult enough in itself, and secondly schoolchildren, particularly when aged between 13 and 18, are a problematic clientele, since actually they’re not there voluntarily. In order to enthuse them for the exhibition, we offer a guided tour with iPads, rather like a museum rally. We hope this will help us get through to the youngsters, and make them feel they’re not just a captive audience. Because today’s museum visitor is also tomorrow’s museum visitor.

Are you sometimes surprised by the visitors’ reactions?

Yes indeed. It’s difficult to calculate which objects and media are ultimately going to appeal. That depends on many different factors. Sometimes, it happens that precisely the things I think are really great don’t seem to appeal to the public at all, and at other times things go down like a bomb that we never thought would be a major attraction. In this exhibition, the ghost of the kiln will probably be a highlight. But the exhibition will in my opinion also works well as a holistic experience, since we’re offering a lot of unusual stuff, and hardly any prior knowledge is required. After all, everyone has some sort of acquaintance with the subject.

 

The interview definitely whetted my appetite for a visit to the exhibition. Perhaps we’ll be seeing each other in Aldersbach soon!

PS: In the newest edition of our Krones magazine there is also an article about the State Exhibition. If you’re interested, you can request the magazine here 🙂