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Noah and the Ark

August 6, 2011

Europe's first floating amusement park with a Biblical theme has opened its gangway in Cologne. Visitors can test their knowledge of the Bible while getting cozy with life-size models of giraffes and other fuzzy fellows.

Noah's Ark docked in Cologne
All aboard!Image: Bigship BV

It's a stately vessel floating on the Rhine River and somehow it looks vaguely familiar. Plumbing one's memory, it does indeed resemble illustrations from childhood picture books about the Bible.

That's just what Dutch television entertainer and puppeteer Aad Peters was aiming for. Nearly a year ago, he purchased this model of Noah's Ark, turning it into a kind of museum and amusement park to teach people more about the Holy Scripture.

"The Bible is an interesting book, even for people who have never read it," he observed. "Everyone should be familiar with its stories."

Aad Peters in Cologne
Aad Peters in CologneImage: Bigship BV

Cologne is the first station abroad for the Ark, having docked only at Dutch ports until now. When visitors board the ship, the first thing they receive is a questionnaire, where they can test their knowledge of the Bible.

Wooden vs. stuffed

True to the story in the Book of Genesis, which saw Noah build an ark to save himself, his family and the animals of the world during the Great Flood, this museum ship is home to many an animal, though the majority of them are stuffed. Plenty of the furry creatures, even massive giraffes, are life-size models, while some of the smaller critters are real.

The ship is also a four-story abode for many scenes from the Old and New Testaments, including Adam and Eve in Paradise. In the David and Goliath setting, visitors can pick up a slingshot like the young future king of Israel to slay the giant Philistine warrior.

Wooden models created by the Czech sculptor Michaela Bartonova are beautifully crafted. Ark-goers can also sit down in confession booths to reveal their secrets.

Open to everyone

Having opened in Cologne in July with the help of German singer Nina Hagen, the show has already seen a wide range of visitors. Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, as well as Christians have made their way on board since then.

Adam and Eva in Paradise
Adam and Eva are on the Ark, tooImage: Bigship BV

Peters, whose work as a filmmaker and producer of children's television shows has taken him to Arab countries, particularly likes talking with the Muslim Ark-visitors. "Noah's tale is also present in other religions," he noted. "I've met Muslims who know the story better than Christians."

But the exhibition doesn't just aim to share knowledge about Biblical history. It's also art for art's sake, aiming to prompt thoughts and feelings about a wide scope of topics. There's a display that shows Noah's wife with two birds in her chest. Viewers can make of that what they want.

Noah's human side, with all its wanton faults, is also revealed: He's not just a wacky vintner, but an alcoholic with a penchant for scooters. After all, the scooter helps him get around the Ark faster, Peters quipped.

A theological view

Once visitors want to settle down after exploring, they can step down into the bowels of the ship. There, they can read the original story of Noah and the Ark in Bibles provided by the German Bible Society.

Noah on a scooter
Noah can't get enough of his scooterImage: DW

Churches have helped sponsor the exhibition, however. Peters rejected that idea since, despite having worked for Christian broadcasters, he's not a church-goer. "It's better for the Church that I don't go, because I pick everything apart and am very critical," he mused.

Protestant pastor Mathias Bonhoeffer from Bonn, for his part, found the exhibition interesting, but noted that "some of the theological subtleties are missing and much does not correspond with what's actually in the Bible."

"Still, it's impressive for young people and a good way for them to get a glimpse of Christian traditions and culture," he added.

Author: Christina Beyert / als
Editor: Kate Bowen