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History of the museum

The foundation stone for research into natural history and prehistory in Kamenz was laid on 1 October 1887 with the inauguration of the “Gebirgsverein zu Kamenz” (Kamenz Mountaineering Society). A mountaineering club room was set up in the Hutberg hotel, which opened in 1895. This is where the various items in the museum’s collections from the fields of geology, zoology, botany, archaeology and cultural history were first housed. 

The first discussions concerning a local history museum in Kamenz began in the 1920s. It was mainly thanks to the efforts of Dr Gerhard Stephan, the town archivist, that a town history museum was founded in 1931, in which many of the town’s historical and prehistoric collections were initially brought together and exhibited. The first systematic additions to the collection and research work in the field of cultural history were also initiated around this time.

Research into natural history was carried out during the 1930s by the Kamenz branch of the “Isis” Natural Science Society (Bautzen), which also acquired the Gebirgsverein's collections in 1939. The outbreak of World War II marked a profound change in the collection and processing of materials on local history. The town history museum closed in 1943. The last meeting of the “Isis” Society took place in Kamenz in December 1944. Both the natural history and the historical and prehistoric collections had to be packed up and moved several times during the turmoil caused by the war.

It was not until the start of 1954 that both the natural history and the historical collections were relocated to the town hall, where they were officially opened to the public just one year later. It quickly became clear that their new home could not be a permanent solution. Parts of the collection had to remain in the Lessinghaus and the Lessingschule.

In 1957, Kamenz town council decided to make the Ponickauhaus, one of the town’s oldest town houses, available to the museum. The possibility of moving the museum’s collections to the Ponickauhaus went hand in hand with a desire for a “proper” museum of local history. However, the Ponickauhaus still had ten families living in it, along with a lawyer’s office and the miller’s and baker’s cooperative, and there was a shop on the ground floor.

When the first two rooms were given to the museum in 1959, there was no room to set up and run a proper museum. Little by little, the building was transferred to the museum and remodelled.

In 1961, the first permanent collection was opened in the area previously occupied by the shop. At the same time, the collections were collated and expanded, and the departments of biology, geology and cultural history were established, which gradually gave the building the appearance of a landscape museum.

In 1968, the museum was renamed the “Museum der Westlausitz Kamenz” (Museum of West Lusatia Kamenz). This also announced to the outside world that western Upper Lusatia would be the focus of its work.

The last family left the Ponickauhaus in 1977. The museum’s first publication was issued in the same year.

In 1978/79, the reconstruction of the side wing made it possible to enlarge and modernise the exhibition area. The zoology collection was housed on the top floor, while the installation of the taxidermy workshop on the ground floor greatly improved working conditions for the zoology department.

In the 1980s, the museum - along with the natural history museums in Dresden and Görlitz - emerged as an important pillar in natural history research and education in eastern Saxony. One of the museum’s particular strengths turned out to be cooperation with volunteer environmentalists and heritage conservationists as part of the Kulturbund, which made a close link between expanding the collection and research work possible. The political developments after 1989 once again placed the museum’s focus and external framework conditions under scrutiny.

As a museum with a regional focus, the responsibility for the Museum of West Lusatia was transferred to the district of Kamenz in 1991. Major social changes required a fundamental review and overhaul of the museum’s operations and structure. It was a time of new beginnings and new directions, marked by economic difficulties and modern approaches.

With the support of the Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt (German Federal Foundation for the Environment), the museum’s collection and working areas were expanded to an area measuring 1,500 square metres in the form of a display repository in Kamenz's Centre for Education. The museum acquired modern research and collection facilities when the Sammelsurium opened in the summer of 2000.

2000-2002: Redesign of the Ponickauhaus. Designed to be a vibrant home for the sciences, the Elementarium is now open to the public from the basement floor all the way up to the roof. 

While the Elementarium was being redesigned, the town of Kamenz also redeveloped the Malzhaus across the street. This is where storage facilities and exhibitions were set up to house the town’s historical collections. A glass bridge from the Elementarium has connected the two museum buildings since 2004 so that visitors can stroll through their various worlds.


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