Günther Weissenseel grew up in postwar Franconia, surrounded by the region’s history.
Buildings in nearby cities lay scarred by Allied bombing. People spoke of the hardships of World War II. NATO soldiers, most of them American, garrisoned in nearby villages to guard against an attack from the East German frontier.
“Every day, after school, we were out in the field with the Army,” said Weissenseel, 52. “The first cigarette I smoked was with the American military.”
His youthful friendship with soldiers grew into an avid interest in all things military. He collected documents, uniforms, weapons, trucks, tanks, even field kitchens. He gathered German, American and, later, Soviet relics wherever he could find them.
In 1994, he and some friends created the Military History Club Franconia with the hopes of displaying some of the pieces he had gathered.
The homespun Museum Militär-und Zeitgeschichte (Museum of Military and Contemporary History) opened three years later on a farm on the edge of Stammheim, a village along the Main River about 15 miles north of Kitzingen.
Since then it has grown more than tenfold, to some 54,000 square feet in two adjacent buildings, with more tanks and artillery stored outside.
In front of the museum stand a 1936 Gmeinder railroad locomotive and a 1950s-vintage F-84 Thunderstreak fighter from the West German air force, mounted on a pole in a takeoff pose.
Just inside the entry gate is a village forge from the nearby village of Gerolzhofen, built in 1829 and used by a family of blacksmiths for 149 years. Nearby sit, side-by-side, Soviet T-34 and U.S. M4 Sherman tanks, two mainstays of the Allied war effort in World War II.
Inside the first hall is a diesel U-boat engine that fires up with a roar if you deposit a euro coin. Dioramas include a 19th-century German cavalryman, a WWII bomb shelter and, upstairs, a display on the indoctrination of German schoolchildren through organizations such as the Hitler Youth. The hall holds a German “jeep” designed by Ferdinand Porsche and a motorcycle-sidecar combination that’s a staple of 1940s war movies.
Hall 2 illustrates the equipment and lifestyle of the Cold War-era soldiers of East and West Germany. At one end is a MiG-21, the Russian jet fighter introduced in 1959 and used until the end of the Cold War.
The tour returns to Hall 1, where several upstairs rooms display uniforms, weapons and newspaper clippings about Franconian military history.
One section is dedicated to the post-WWII U.S. military presence in the area.
Weissenseel said his favorite piece in the museum is the commander’s hatch of a WWII German tank in which three men died during a Soviet attack. He knows the only survivor, who still lives in Schweinfurt.
“It was just a piece of steel, but I’m very proud of this,” he said. “Sometimes the personal stories are more interesting than a piece of steel.”
Besides the displays, each spring the museum sponsors a special event. This year’s included a parade of WWII-vehicles — nearly all of the museum’s fleet is in running condition, Weissenseel said — in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the war’s end.
Displays are in German, but an English-language pamphlet is available at the ticket counter. Weissenseel said an English tour can be arranged by calling ahead.
On the QT ...
Directions: From the south, take exit 74 — Kitzingen/Schwarzach/ Volkach/Dettelbach — from Autobahn A3, turn right and drive eight miles to Volkach. Just north of Volkach, turn left on KT32/Schörnbornstrasse and take it three miles to Fahr. In Fahr, turn right onto SW1 and follow signs to Stammheim. The museum is just north of the village, on the right. Coming from Schweinfurt and the north, take the B286 southeast toward Schwebheim. Turn right onto the ST2277, toward Röthlein and Hirschfeld, where the road becomes the SW1. Stay on that road until just north of Stammheim. The museum is on the left.
Times: The museum is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily except Mondays between Feb. 1 and Dec. 20.
Costs: Admission is 4 euros for adults; 2.50 euros for children.
Food: The Zur Schmiede cafe on museum grounds serves a menu of German dishes, ice cream and drinks.
Information: For details or to arrange an English-language tour, call 09381/9255, or e-mail email@example.com. The German-language Web site is www.militaer-museum.de.