Wrexham Museum / Football Museum for Wales visit to Germany with ICOM UK – British Council Travel Grant

Nick Jones, Football Museum Officer and Jonathan Gammond, Access & Interpretation Officer at Wrexham Museum/Football Museum for Wales travelled to Cologne and Dortmund in July 2022 with an ICOM UK – British Council Travel Grant. This is the report from their visit.

Wrexham Heritage Services (part of Wrexham Council) is embarking on the redevelopment of Wrexham Museum to include a brand new Football Museum for Wales, supported by the Welsh Government. Project staff have previously visited the National Football Museum (for England) in Manchester and the Scottish Football Museum in Glasgow and discussed their development journey with the aim of learning lessons for our own project.

The curator of the Scottish Football Museum recommended that we visit the German Football Museum in Dortmund as an exemplar of good practice.

About the visit

The visit was originally planned for May 2020 but, due to the Covid pandemic, which imposed significant worldwide travel restrictions, had to be rescheduled for 2022.

(L – R) Nick Jones (Football Museum for Wales) and Malte von Pidoll (German Football Museum)

The sole purpose of our trip to Germany was to visit the German Football Museum based in Dortmund. On the trip from Wrexham were Nick Jones (Football Museum Officer) and Jonathan Gammond (Access & Interpretation Officer). In Dortmund, we met with Malte von Pidoll, Head of Exhibition, who agreed to meet with us and share his experience of the museum since it opened in 2015.

The German Football Museum opened in 2015, the year after the men’s national team won a fourth World Cup in Brazil.

Germany hosted the men’s World Cup finals in 2006 and the excitement and passion created by that tournament (and money made) led eventually to the creation of a national museum celebrating football in the country. The German Football Museum ranks highly in lists of the best football museums globally, perhaps bettered only by the FIFA Museum in Zurich, Switzerland.

We flew from Manchester to Cologne the day before our visit to the museum, then we travelled by train to Dortmund and back. The museum is opposite to the main railway station in the city, ensuring a prominent presence and easy access.

Having entered the museum building we were introduced to Malte who would be our guide for the morning. He proceeded to take us on a tour of the museum, explaining the make-up of the galleries and exhibitions, the stories behind them and offering valuable insight into the production process. We were able to ask questions and take notes, though this can often prove challenging when trying to listen intently to what is being said.

After a debrief over lunch, we spent valuable time returning to the museum to take a considered look at the displays again, right up until closing time. A long but inspiring day ended with a comparison of notes and learning on the train back to Cologne.

Comparing museums

In some ways, the German Football Museum experience was a very different one to what we are trying to achieve with the Football Museum for Wales in Wrexham. They have a purpose built museum (whereas our project will be redeveloping an existing building) with a significantly higher budget and staff resources. The displays were created by a number of football historians/academics, whilst we have a sole football curator, assisted remotely by other experts of the Welsh game.

However, there were still plenty of similarities in approach and therefore knowledge to be gained. The museum was roughly laid out in three sections identical to those proposed by our team – the national teams, club game and fans, interspersed with other themes such as referees and the media.

There was an excellent example of how to present a player’s collection (essentially lots of shirts, medals, boots etc.) in an engaging way, encasing them all in a number 5 display reflecting the shirt number of the footballer in question, Franz Beckenbauer. There was also an engaging display of fan culture/material which caught the eye – a strong attempt to include as many German clubs in the museum as possible. This is particularly useful as we attempt to similarly engage with clubs across Wales.

Advice for museum professionals new to working internationally

In terms of advice for other museum professionals new to working internationally, the greatest piece of advice I could give in terms of travel arrangements would be to plan carefully a realistic schedule to ensure that you can experience as much as possible from your visit. I remember the planning/booking of travel taking most of a morning to complete but it is definitely worth spending the time to get it right, ensuring a smoother and more productive visit.

It was also really beneficial to us to have made prior contact with a curator at the museum as his insight proved invaluable on the day and will do as we further our development plans. It is a different experience visiting a museum yourself to that offered by someone directly involved in the process of creating it (although both are of worth). It is helpful to have some knowledge of the venue/organisation that you are visiting to ensure that you get the most from your visit. It can also help to prepare a few questions/points to raise in advance.

Next steps

An initial next step for us to take following our visit to the German Football Museum is to share learning with both museum and design team colleagues. In terms of museum colleagues, our feedback can help to shape some of the content currently being planned for the Football Museum for Wales project, particularly in regard to interpretation and presentation. I also intend to share learning and feedback with our external design company. An example of this would be to highlight how fan culture and material was represented in the German Football Museum, as I found that it really brought to life some of the ideas we had discussed in workshops to date. We have also talked about a significant display of football pennants, and this is something that had also been done in Dortmund.

We are fortunate in that a mechanism is already in place for us to stay in touch with the German Football Museum and indeed other football museums across the world. FIFA has established a global network of football museums with an associated online platform and annual conference. Both Germany and Wales are members and hope to share ideas and knowledge in the future. This network will be of real benefit going forward as we have access to different organisations and therefore museum methodologies and styles.

Impact of the visit

The greatest impact of our visit to the German Football Museum has been to highlight to us the quality, scope and detail possible in such a project – a gold standard to be aimed for. For the German Football Museum, our visit represented an excellent opportunity for networking and the exchange of ideas with a close ally.

Personally, the visit lifted my expectations to a higher level of what can be achieved, given time and resources. It emphasised the need for focus and attention to detail to ensure an impressive end result.

We were fortunate in terms of challenges during the trip, with few travel issues encountered. Our visit to the museum could also not have been bettered. In short, an excellent experience!

“The visit to the German Football Museum provided a great opportunity to see how another museum had responded to the challenge of telling their nation’s story of the sport: storyline, interpretative approaches and variations, graphics and audio-visuals display cases, gallery design, object mounting and displays, wayfinding, visitor facilities, public information, staff interaction and all the many aspects involved in creating any museum.”

Jonathan Gammond, Acting Football Museum Project Manager, Wrexham Museum

“The German Football Museum pursues the goal of networking and exchanging ideas with the relevant museums, collections and institutions of European and global football culture. In this regard, meeting Nick Jones and John Gammond was very inspirational and helpful. During their stay in our exhibition, we were able to discuss different perspectives on football, which we hope will bring us together again in our future work.”

Malte von Pidoll, Head of Exhibition, German Football Museum
German Football Museum, Dortmund
German Football Museum, Dortmund