Bernhard Stellmacher has always been a collector. In his teenage years he amassed everything he could find about Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. He was fascinated by her smile. However, his interests shifted when he heard a report on the radio that stated “the banana is nature’s smile.”
Since then, as he puts it, he was infected with “Bananicus.” He began collecting everything and anything banana related. He began creating art under the name “Stelli Banana.” Soon he had the idea for a showcase of his artifacts, rebuilt the basement of his house, and opened the Banana Museum, or “Erstes Deutsches Bananen Museum,” “Germany’s First Banana Museum.”
The basement museum is stuffed to the brim with bananas of all sorts, from a banal salt shaker in form of a banana, to banana flavored condoms, to a train signal with a banana as pointer. The museum’s insight extends beyond the obvious, and features pop cultural items like Andy Warhol’s banana print and a corner dedicated to Josephine Baker’s banana skirt. The most valuable exhibit is an 18th century engraving by the natural scientist and artist Maria Sibylla Merian.
Half an East German car bursts through the wall in an exhibition about the “Banana Boom” caused by opening of the inner German border in 1989. Prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was hard for East Germans to get produce, including bananas, which they could only get on Christmas if they were lucky. When the border opened the East Germans came in droves to supermarkets in West Germany to load their cars full of bananas, making it hard to get bananas in West Germany, and of course, raising the banana prices. These fruit wars went on for some time.
Stellmacher ascribes Biblical roots to the humble banana. He claims, “Everybody thinks the apple is the fruit of knowledge. But this is not written in the Bible. There it only says, ‘… and Eve thought the fruit was cheerful to look at.’ And a fruit cheerful to look at can only be the banana.”
Over the years Bernhard Stellmacher has collected more than 10,000 banana related artifacts. And almost every day he receives parcels from all over the world from people wishing to contribute to the museum. He once got a parcel from Thailand with a coconut inside. Engraved on the husk was the phrase: “I exclaim: I am a banana!” Stellmacher is always delighted and grateful to receive new donations, particularly ones as happy as that.
Due to the expansiveness of Stellmacher’s collection, banana exhibits are frequently swapped out. This is why visitors return again and again, as there is always something new to admire. Stellmacher reports that more than 75% of his visitors are women. He is unsurprised by this statistic, as he believes women are naturally more curious. Men, in his view, are more thin-skinned, particularly when it comes to phallic objects. They fear someone might poke fun at them, and Bernhard Stellmacher likes to do just that.
Know Before You Go
The museum is open every Saturday and Sunday from 11 AM to 1 PM, or by appointment. Entrance is free.