The history of the Swiss Museum of Wildlife and Hunting Society at Landshut Castle
by Dr Hansjörg Blankenhorn
The Swiss Museum of Wildlife and Hunting Society is an association that supports the Swiss hunting community and the only hunting museum in Switzerland at Landshut Castle. In addition, it manages the Swiss hunting library and ensures that documents from many Swiss hunting organisations are archived. It has the status of a non-profit foundation.
The early days
Soon after the Second World War the idea of establishing a Swiss hunting museum arose. It will come as no surprise that a few well-known hunters were the people who took the initiative. Under the leadership of Dr. Mauritz Lustenberger (picture 1), a prominent hunter from Lucerne and a member of the international order "Der Silberne Bruch", a member of the cantonal parliament, a colonel in the army and a director, efforts were made to find a suitable location for the museum. Heidegg Castle in Gelfingen in the Lucerne basin was identified as the site. This castle had been in the possession of the canton of Lucerne since 1949 and was home to an exhibition on the domestic life of its former owners.
The highly dynamic curator of the castle at the time, Dr. Gottfried Bösch (picture 2), an art historian, soon realised that this exhibition alone would not lead to an increase in visitor numbers or in the income of the castle, and began looking for other solutions. The idea of establishing a Swiss hunting museum came just at the right time. As a result, the only Swiss museum for hunting was set up in 1956 at Heidegg Castle and was formally opened in the presence of Federal Councillor Etter. Almost from the start, there were two exhibitions at the castle: one local history exhibition concerning the lives of the former owners and the hunting museum, which initially put on display trophies and hunting equipment in keeping with the times.
At the same time, on 26 May 1956, the"Gesellschaft zur Förderung des Schweizerischen Museums für Jagd und Wildschutz und seiner Bestrebungen" (the society to promote the Swiss museum for hunting and wildlife and its efforts) was founded in Gelfingen in the canton of Lucerne. In its articles of association the organisation states: The purpose of the society is: To develop the Swiss Museum for Hunting and Wildlife in order to increase respect for creation in its entirety, to promote an understanding of hunting in accordance with its code of ethics, to train hunters, to provide opportunities to hold courses for hunting bodies, to promote the breeding and training of working dogs and to manage the conflicts between agriculture, forestry and hunting. In addition, temporary exhibitions were to be organised and accompanied by demonstrations, presentations and publications.
The organisation had set itself ambitious goals and it made progress very quickly. It acquired the "Laroche collection", a very comprehensive and valuable collection of French hunting weapons and equipment from the 17th century and a whole series of hunting trophies from different sources. Then it held an exhibition on the natural repopulation of the red deer in Switzerland since the beginning of the 20th century. The rooms allocated to the museum gradually became occupied with exhibits. Unfortunately the number of paying visitors to Heidegg Castle did not grow in the same way. Visitor levels did not meet expectations, in particular the expectations of the curator. The organisation naturally wanted to expand the hunting museum, but the curator was not prepared to give over additional rooms to hunting, because he was planning to hold local history exhibitions there. This is how an initially positive collaboration became a growing dispute and then a struggle for the limited space available at the castle.
The rise of wildlife biology
Although there were already forestry institutes in Germany before the Second World War that focused on research into native wildlife, this field only really began to develop from the 1950s onwards. Institutes were soon established at the universities in Göttingen, Giessen, Munich and Vienna, where in-depth research into wildlife was carried out. These were followed by institutes at universities in Basel, Zurich, Neuenburg, Lausanne and Berne.
Why was this development of such great importance? Because the results of the research very quickly began to have an impact on hunting practice and legislation. At the same time, the interest of the broader public in native wildlife started to grow. It was clear to the members of the organisation that alongside trophies and hunting equipment, a Swiss museum of nationwide importance would have to include exhibitions on huntable and protected wildlife living in our region, which covered their behaviour, way of life, eating habits and habitats. However, there was not enough room at Heidegg Castle for this and the directors of the society became increasingly frustrated. They began to look for alternative locations. Among other things, this was reflected in the increasing number of Bernese representatives on the board. Members of "Der Silberne Bruch" played an active role, including the later presidents of the organisation, Hans Baumann from Thun and Erwin Lüscher from Ortsschwaben as well as the wildlife biologist and later director of Dählhölzli Zoo in Berne, Dr. Hanner Sägesser. All of these men had a very good network of contacts, which included Berne's cantonal government, the municipality of Berne and the Natural History Museum of Berne.
They were confident that a suitable location could be found for the museum within the canton of Berne. However, this time they wanted to be sure that the museum was curated professionally. The intention was for the Natural History Museum of Berne to fulfil this role. Finally an ideal, highly picturesque and historical location was found for the museum in the form of the Landshut Castle in Utzenstorf, the only moated castle in the canton of Berne. An agreement on the use of the castle was negotiated with the canton of Berne, which owned the property.
The Museum of Wildlife and Hunting at Landshut Castle
The new museum at Landshut Castle was formally opened in 1968. The collection of hunting weapons and equipment was transferred from the old museum. A new exhibition about native wildlife was added. This was later complemented by a presentation on falconry and a collection of hunting horns donated by Werner Flachs. The zoologist Dr Peter Lüps (picture 4) was appointed as the new curator of the museum. He was also the head of the vertebrates department at the Natural History Museum of Berne. This ensured that the staff at the museum had the necessary expertise in wildlife biology and in designing exhibitions.
In the 1990s a comprehensive renovation of the museum took place. At the initiative of the Natural History Museum and with the collaboration of the museum board, which consisted of members of our organisation, the directorate of the Natural History Museum and the municipality of Berne, a concept for renovating and modernising the exhibition at the castle was developed.
In 1997 under the leadership of our organisation – in particular vice president Kurt Müller (picture 5) – he will be discussed in more detail later in the article – a major fundraising campaign was held among the Swiss hunting community, the Swiss Federation and the cantons, which was very successful. A donation of CHF 600,000.00 was made to the Natural History Museum for the new exhibition, which opened in 1999 and has remained almost unchanged since then. In addition, every year or sometimes every two years special exhibitions have been arranged on different current topics. More than 10,000 people now visit the museum every year. In the course of these activities the name of our organisation was changed to "Gesellschaft Schweizerisches Museum für Wild und Jagd Schloss Landshut" (Swiss Museum of Wildlife and Hunting Society at Landshut Castle).
Following Peter Lüps' retirement, the permanent exhibition and the special exhibitions will continue to be professionally managed by Andreas Ryser of the Natural History Museum of Berne.
The Swiss Hunting Library
More than 400 specialist books were collected at Heidegg Castle, which included some rare volumes. These were transferred to Landshut Castle. However, the collection of books could not be described as a library in the true sense of the word, because they were not registered and could not be viewed or borrowed. This issue only became relevant when the daughter-in-law of Eugen Wyler, one of the founding fathers of the order "Der Silberne Bruch" and a very well-known hunting author, donated Wyler's personal library to the organisation in 1981. This laid the foundations for the establishment of a library worthy of the name. In the same year, Ursula Lüthi-Lindt, a qualified librarian, was appointed to manage the hunting library. Ueli Lienhard, at the time a hunting and fishing manager from the canton of Aargau and a true book lover, was the board member responsible for the library. However, these developments were preceded by in-depth discussions within the organisation about the significance and practicality of a move of this kind. During these discussions the former president, Erwin Lüscher, apparently said that hunters do not read at all and if they do then only the annual hunting regulations and he could not even be sure about that. Nevertheless, since then the hunting library has been very popular, particularly among hunters who often donate their own personal book collections to the organisation. The library's first home was in the office of the Natural History Museum at the castle. However, this office was hidden in the depths of the castle, which made it very difficult to find. The fact that it was used both by the Natural History Museum and the hunting library also meant that space was limited and disputes sometimes arose. In 1987 Marianne Blankenhorn succeeded Ursula Lüthi-Lindt as librarian. The library was based on the type of card index system which was common at the time. This is where Kurt Müller comes in again. He was the former president of the Schweizerische Revierjäger (ASJV) and was elected to the board of our organisation in 1986. Like the new librarian, he was also an enthusiastic book lover. In addition to hunting, Kurt was also interested in all types of electronic gadgets. As a result, an Atari computer found its way into the hunting library in 1989. At the time, the library already had a collection of 982 books. In 1999 a solution to the problem of limited space at the castle was finally found. After the hunting inspectorate of the canton of Berne stopped breeding pheasants in one of the barns at the castle, various rooms became vacant. And this is how Marianna Blankenhorn, who had mixed feelings about the solution, and more than 1000 books from the castle found their way into the renovated pheasant breeding and rearing rooms in the barn. This is where the library is still located today.
In 2010 Marianna Blankenhorn handed over the administration of the library, which then consisted of more than 5000 volumes, to Anna Hofer from Utzenstorf (picture 6), who was happy to take on the challenge. The hunting library has continued to flourish since then and with nearly 9000 books has become a significant part of our organisation's activities. Furthermore, it houses the archives of many Swiss hunting organisations, such as JagdSchweiz, SPW, "Der Silberne Bruch" and Diana Suisse.
Next year it will be 50 years since the Swiss hunting museum came to Landshut Castle. Since then quite a few things have changed in the organisations and bodies that our society works with. The most important change is the transfer of ownership of the castle from the canton of Berne to the Landshut Castle Foundation, which took place in 1988.
The canton of Berne, the municipality of Utzenstorf, the Natural History Museum of Berne and our organisation have representatives on the board of the foundation. It could be described as the umbrella organisation for the Museum of Wildlife and Hunting, as it has been called since 1994, our society and the hunting library.
One of the goals of the foundation is to establish a historical and cultural exhibition about life in the 17th century at the castle.
Although our organisation is represented on the board of the foundation, the Museum for Wildlife and Hunting is not mentioned in the foundation's statutes. We hope that this mistake will be corrected when the statutes are next revised. Regardless of this, a situation has arisen as a result of the foundation's objective, which is similar to that at Heidegg Castle and which at the time led to major disputes about the allocation of rooms to the two museums. However, because our organisation currently has a very good working relationship with the foundation and, in particular, with the foundation's board, we have been able to avoid problems of this kind so far.
Since 1968 Landshut Castle has been the headquarters of the international order "Der Silberne Bruch”, whose members played a crucial role in the foundation of our organisation and helped to develop the Museum of Wildlife and Hunting.
Our organisation has been a member of Jagdschweiz since 1998.
In the next few years, the Museum of Wildlife and Hunting will be completely redesigned. This represents a major challenge for our society, in particular with regard to financing and organising the project.
I would like to thank a number of people. Without their help, I would not have been able to complete this article: - Dieter Ruckstuhl, Curator of the Museum at Heidegg Castle, Kurt Müller from Solothurn, Anna Hofer from Utzenstorf, Peter Flückiger from Olten and my wife Marianne Blankenhorn.
Säriswil, 8 May 2017