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Culture

Museum Recalls 'Parent Trap' Creator

A small new museum in Dresden commemorates the life and work of German author Erich Kästner, whose work served as the inspiration for the Disney film "The Parent Trap."

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How much space does a person need? That's a question that consumes Irish architect Ruairi O'Brien's thoughts.

A school group has just arrived at the Erich Kästner Museum in Dresden. But instead of displaying signs of impatience and boredom that school kids usually do while trailing behind their teacher through a musty museum, this group seems unusually absorbed.

Erich Kästner Villa Augustin

Erich Kästner, Villa Augustin source: Ruairí O'Brien

Two 15-year-olds stand before a television screen and watch Kästner’s famous film, "Emil and the Detectives", with rapt attention as if it were the latest video clip from MTV. Others examine an elegant two-meter-high and three-meter-wide wooden object in the center of the room.

This turns out to be a prototype of the mobile museum that opens much like a flower. The inside turns out to be a series of unusual building elements -- drawers that can be clapped open, bookshelves and display cases, all brimming with old photographs, souvenirs and other memorabilia. The class teacher sits absorbed and relaxed with a children’s book.

Erich Kästner Project

Erich Kästner Project

The tranquil scene is broken by Ruairi O’Brien, the creator of the Erich Kästner Museum. The Irishman shows with increasing enthusiasm the wealth of information that the tiny 15 square meter room contains about Kästner (photo), one of Germany’s most popular and enduring authors, known primarily for his amusing children’s books including "Emil and the Detectives" and "The Parent Trap," which inspired the beloved and eponymously titled Disney film.

"Less is more"

O’Brien designed the unique tailor-made micro museum for Kästner four years ago in Dresden's Neustadt neighborhood, where Kästner lived from 1899 to 1917. Following the maxim "less is more," the Irishman saved on resources by using the concept of virtual reality to design a number of rooms within one single space.

O’Brien also broke with tradition in the process. Instead of devoting as much space as possible to a venerable figure who produced a huge volume of literary works in his lifetime, the Irishman did the exact opposite. By paying tribute to Kästner in the smallest possible amount of space, he created an "accessible treasure trove."

Kästner almost in the flesh

With the new museum, O'Brien has pioneered a new curatorial technique. O’Brien has managed to introduce Kästner here as a person as well as a author with the least amount of effort, thanks to multifunctional elements.

Erich Kästner

Erich Kästner

Mobile shelves and drawers with photographs, yellowed newspaper articles, letters and books that a visitor can touch and flip through take the experience a step further by showing what usually is encased in glass display cases in museums. Each visitor can discover the author for himself.

In addition to books and other original objects, the visitor can also find audio and video technology in the wooden object in the center of the room, as well as a computer work station that offers information on Kästner in several different languages.

Difficult to pin down

Despite the small size of the room, it appears large and bright thanks to the fact that it opens out onto a conservatory, where one can sit and absorb the bewildering amount of information.

A huge portrait of Kästner hangs in the middle of the conservatory, which is reflected in the glass walls and appears three-dimensional. Light and shadow are integral parts of O’Brien’s minimalist concept. In the twilight, the lit conservatory looks almost like a lighthouse.

O’Brien doesn’t like stiff concepts and hates classifying his dabbling with different media into concrete subject areas. The 40-year-old wants to bring literature, architecture, art, communication and media technology into harmony in the museum.

There’s no doubt that the Irishman, who recently won an architecture award, is multi-talented and a visionary. In his spare time, he does graphics for an English magazine, teaches architecture in Weimar -- and reads Kästner. But the question that’s always foremost in his mind, irrespective of what he projects he undertakes, is always the same: How much space does a person need?

The Erich Kästner Museum in the Villa Augustin in Dresden Neustadt is open from Sunday to Tuesday 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and on Wednesdays from 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

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