The Pit

| January 30, 2013

I’m going to combine multiple visits to Messel in one blog entry, since all of them center around the town’s main attraction: a pit.

Truly, an amazing pit.

Our first discovery of this pit was quite by accident.  While we were still staying in the hotel last September, Paul (who differs from me in that he often refers to maps) noticed that right smack in the middle of a bunch of green was a small town.  He wondered what the town was like and said it was his turn to choose our destination for once, so we took a little drive.  (The drive of course involved a few incidents such as:

Paul: The sign seems to say the road is closed.  Should we continue?   Kari: Yes.

Paul: Those people are turning around.  Should we turn around?  Kari: No.

…and almost stopping for lunch at a place, then noticing that it seemed to be setting up to cater an event, amidst a forest with signs which appeared to indicate that explosives were in the vicinity.  (This time we turned around.))

As we neared Messel, Paul nonchalantly pointed out a brown sign with a dinosaur skeleton on it, pointing right.  He then prepared to turn left as directed by the GPS.  I was flabbergasted, and I might have been a little loud.  “YOU ALWAYS FOLLOW THE SIGN WITH A DINOSAUR ON IT.”  He turned right.

We followed the brown signs until we entered a charming little town, where we found museum signs.  We soon saw footprints painted on the sidewalks and figured we were heading in the right direction.  On a street corner stood a cute fachwerk structure: the Fossilien- und Heimatmuseum Messel.

First we entered a tiny outdoor display, and then the museum; entry is free but they do accept donations.  We were stunned by the completeness of the fossils that have come from the pit.

IMG_0235It was like looking at x-rays of some of the animals and plant life.  The museum traced the pit’s local history—for mining and then later almost as a dump.  It is now a UNESCO world heritage site which UNESCO calls “the richest site in the world for understanding the living environment of the Eocene, between 57 million and 36 million years ago”. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/720  Seriously, who knew?  This is 10 minutes from where we ultimately chose to live.

Okay, so I still don’t know what the Eocene is.  But still.

IMG_0229 2We searched for the pit itself that day, but were unable to locate it.  A couple months later, though, as Sequoia and I were driving home from Darmstadt, we noticed a sign to Grube Messel – the Messel Pit.  Of course we veered off course and drove down a road that looks like you shouldn’t be driving down it, finding ourselves at a newish-looking UNESCO museum building http://www.grube-messel.de/en/ueber-uns.html .

This museum charges admission, but if you’re interested in an overview, some hands-on displays for the kids, and English explanations that are not available at the tiny museum in town, then it’s worth a visit.  Sequoia’s favorite attraction is a dizzying several-minute simulator room which takes you down through layers of rock, sand, lava, etc.  It was the main reason she insisted upon taking her grandparents to the museum during their Christmas visit.  (That, and the town museum was closed over the holidays (we learned from the cleaning woman after we waltzed on into the unlocked building).)

During this first visit to the UNESCO museum, we walked out back to the pit itself.  With the naked eye, you cannot see anything going on at the bottom, and unfortunately the coin-operated binoculars were broken.  A bit of a disappointment for me, but Sequoia was unfazed.   We did not try to look down at the pit during our Christmas visit because it was foggy, drizzly, cold, and with the binoculars presumably still inoperable, it would not be worth the short walk.  Hopefully the binocs will be repaired by summer, as I’m sure Sequoia will find some reason to return.

IMG_0251

A good place to check out a slide show of the museum’s fossils: http://messel-fossils.eu/5.html

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Category: Activities, Family Travel, Germany, In Germany A Broad blog, Museums

About the Author ()

Kari Martindale is a writer and ESL instructor. She’s visited all 50 states and 37 countries, including many of the big cities of Europe and a ton of Christmas Markets. She spends her days straddling the fence between a sense of adventure and a sense of dread. She is married to what is clearly a patient man and has a daughter who, frustratingly, is just like her. Her academic and professional backgrounds are in linguistics and foreign languages. When she's not teaching ESL, she's writing. When she's not writing, she's thinking about her next trip.

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