BONN. Germany's largest ornithological collection is stored under the roof of the Koenig Museum
When it came to choosing his career, young Alexander Koenig had definite ideas at an early age. At 14 he was already hoarding bird eggs and animal specimens with great passion. He created small inventory lists for his own collection which he self-confidently signed "A. Koenig, Director".
"Throughout his life he was fascinated by eggs," says Till Töpfer, curator of ornithology at the Koenig Museum. Today, the research facility at Adenauerallee in Bonn has around 60,000 specimens, making it the largest collection of birds in a German museum. Founder Alexander Koenig collected or bought around 40,000 of these himself, including hummingbirds weighing only one or two grams as well as ostrich eggs weighing about 1.5 kilograms. "Koenig probably got into biology through the eggs," adds the ornithologist.
The extraordinary collection is still housed in the attic of the wing that was added to Alexander Koenig's villa as a private ornithological museum between 1898 and 1900. The exhibits are still stored in heavy oak drawers bearing the zoologist's handwritten labels. "These clearly show that he took care of the collection during his entire life. Some entries are recorded in a razor-sharp fashion, others on the other hand have been written with a trembling hand," Töpfer demonstrates.
Koenig was guided solely by his aesthetic sensibilities. "For him, an egg had to be above all beautiful and perfect in form," Töpfer smiles. At that time, collecting eggs was still an everyday hobby. But today, there are severe penalties for violating rules on nature conservation and species protection.
Koenig neatly placed his "treasures" in boxes padded with black cotton wool. "Today, of course, we use unbleached material. But the black contrast was also important for Koenig for aesthetic reasons."
There are as many different egg varieties as there are bird species: Freshly laid, the hatch of the South American Tinamou, for example, shines in a range of colours from emerald green to sky-blue. Colonies of breeders like guillemots can apparently only find their nests by identifying the individual patterns of their egg shells.
Specimens of animals that have long been extinct are of course particularly valuable. Like the eggs of the passenger pigeon, or the Madagascar ostrich, which died out 20,000 years ago. The museum only has a replica of its 10 kilogram egg in its showcase.
In order for the exhibits to survive, they are "blown out" - similar to the Easter egg preparations at home. For this a hole is drilled on the side and the egg is then rinsed out so that only the empty shell remains.
A quick glance is all it takes to discover that one egg is by no means the same as another. "There are long and elegant ones like the Alpine swift egg or round ones like the Eurasian wryneck egg. There is no evidence to support the theory that the cone shape protects eggs hatched on rocks from falling," the expert explains. It is also possible that this shape makes it easier for birds to breed because the eggs in the nest can be pushed together at the tips. Most of the scientific collection is safely stored in the evidence room and is not open to the public, but "there are some showcases in the museum where visitors can see the different eggs," Töpfer promises.
And he has another story about Alexander Koenig and his passion for eggs. "It is reported that in his old age, Koenig suffered from Parkinson's. Only when you put an egg in his hand did the trembling stop and he calmed down."
The Koenig Museum is open on Easter Sunday and Easter Monday from 10am to 6pm.
(Original text: Gabriele Immenkeppel, Translation: Caroline Kusch)