Torture Museums Look At The Dark Side Of History

Ah, the Good Old Days, when everyone lived in a perpetual Renaissance Festival quaffing ale and shouting “Huzzah!” It must have been wonderful.


People died young, the cities were filled with rats and open sewers, and God help you if you ever got arrested. You’d be taken to a torture chamber in order to “confess” while being subjected to various imaginative torture devices, like the rack shown here in a photo courtesy Jan Mehlich. It’s from the torture exhibit in the Lubuska Land Museum in Zielona Góra, Poland. A victim would be tied to it and stretched until his limbs popped out of their sockets. The spikes on the cylinder would add an extra level of agony. This museum stands out among torture museums in that many of its objects were used in the local area.

Germany was a pretty rough place back in the Bad Old Days, and this has spawned several good torture museums in the country. The biggest is the Medieval Crime Museum in Rothenburg, with 2,000 square meters of displays on torture, execution and medieval law. Nuremberg has a preserved torture chamber underneath city hall.

Italy was a rough place too, and you can find out more at the Criminal Museum in Rome, the Museo della Tortura housed in the Devil’s Tower in San Gimignano and the Museum of Criminal Anthropology in Turin. The latter museum is interesting because it reflects the 19th century belief that a person’s physical features, especially the shape of the skull, could show criminal proclivities. Hundreds of skulls, brains and death masks from executed criminals are on display, as well as the weapons they used in their crimes and the instruments of their demise.

%Gallery-155223%Many torture museums are found inside castles. The Tower of London has some nasty instruments on display, as does Gravensteen in Ghent, Belgium. Like Poland’s Land Museum, most of the items are locally sourced in a kind of Slow Torture Movement. Check out my post on Muider Castle, which offers a peek at a medieval dungeon that’s an easy day trip from Amsterdam.

If you’re in Amsterdam and don’t feel like a day trip, check out the cheesy yet interesting Torture Museum. Also in The Netherlands is the Prison Gate Museum in The Hague, which may be the world’s oldest torture museum, having opened in 1882. It offers glimpses of such fearsome places as the Jailer’s Quarters, the Interrogation Room and the Judge Chambers. One interesting detail they tell you on the tour is that imprisonment was not considered a punishment, just a way to take a criminal out of circulation until the trial. To really punish an evildoer, they had to be tortured, publicly humiliated, or executed.

In Lima, Peru, you can visit the underground prison and torture chambers of the Spanish Inquisition. The Inquisition Museum is a sobering look at what happens when a single religion gets to dominate society.

As you can see, most of these museums display the horrors of the past. One museum that doesn’t shy away from more recent crimes against humanity is the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which shows what the Khmer Rouge did to systematically destroy Cambodian society. Gadling blogger Jessica Marati said it’s “one of the most maddening, saddening, and intense places you’ll ever visit in your life.” When visiting torture museums, it’s good to remember that these barbarous practices are still used by many governments today.

Pickpockets in Copenhagen: Gadling blogger’s victim story. Part 2. Was it Romanians?

I can still see the pocket of my daypack gaping open right before I got that panicked, sinking feeling. It was a feeling that I couldn’t quite believe I was having. Up to that point, my trip to Denmark though Amsterdam had happened without a hitch, and I had yet to do the shopping I had planned.

The afternoon that had started out promising had the potential to turn out lousy. (see previous pickpocket post)

My experience of having my wallet lifted right out of a pocket of my daypack is not uncommon, as I have since found out. On Wednesday, the day after I returned to the U.S. with less money than I counted on having–thus way less shopping, my Danish friend emailed me with recent news about pickpockets in Denmark.

She heard on the television news that over the last three weeks, the police have arrested 61 Romanian pickpockets in Copenhagen. My friend wrote that the increase of pickpocketing is due to the Christmas season.

While I was looking for a link to an article on this particular news item, I found several others. While browsing these stories, I’ve discovered a couple of details to pass on to folks heading to Copenhagen. They can be also be applied to any major city such as Amsterdam where Whistling in the Dark’s photo was taken.

There are hot spots in Copenhagen where diligence could save you from becoming a victim. Copenhagen Central Station, Strøget, a pedestrian walking street, and a McDonald’s near the entrance of Tivoli Gardens were places people have been robbed. Other travel warning sites said to be on the lookout on any pedestrian street. Copenhagen has several.

I was in the Tiger store nearest Norreport Station when I noticed the wallet missing. Norreport has 90,000 people passing through each day, so you can imagine how many people from there must head to the walking street where Tiger is located. The store was quite crowded on the first floor, and I was jostled more than once. Because I was shopping, I wasn’t focused on my bag.

The fact that I didn’t notice my wallet gone until I went to pay for my merchandise is not an uncommon story. Read Virtual Tourist, and for details of some of the other tales of woe. There is also a warning about pickpockets in Copenhagen at Worldworx.

In my sleuthing, I also found this snippet in the Copenhagen Post from this past August. The brief blurb mentions 700 Romanian pickpockets who are currently operating in Copenhagen.

Except, if my friend is correct, subtract 61 from that number. Although, the total could have increased in the last few months, so perhaps you should add a few.. The pickpocket problem, according the article, has been exacerbated because of open borders due to the EU free movement regulations.

Reading these details does help me feel a bit better. I should have been more careful, but at least I have company.

When I traveled through Amsterdam last week at the beginning of my trip, I had pickpockets in mind. Thus, my credit card, traveler’s checks, cash, and passport were hidden away in a pouch around my neck. The pouch was under my shirt and under my jacket–a bit cumbersome but effective.

By the last day in Denmark, I had my money and my credit card back in my wallet. Stupid move. My driver’s license and passport were in another location in the main section of my day pack, along with my one remaining $20 traveler’s check.

My what could have been a lousy day was saved by the Danish police who helped me stop my VISA card with absolutely no hassle, and by my generous friend who gave me money so that the good times could continue.