The muZIEum

At a highly unusual museum in the Netherlands, visitors don’t get to see any of the main exhibits.

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Arrival at the muZIEum

We descend the stairs with trepidation, unsure of what to expect. As the door closes silently behind us, we are greeted by our guide, Esther. Her calm, relaxed tones soothe the nervous Child #2 as she ushers us into a cosy living room. In here, there’s a candle by the television, a mirror hanging on the wall and a scattering of remnant Christmas decorations. All very normal, all very everyday… but something is missing. Something vital. Something that nearly all of us take for granted.

Light.

It is totally, perfectly, staggeringly dark. Black on black. Stripped of our sense of sight, we have discovered the living room in the way that a blind person would, through sound and touch. We’re at the muZIEum (“muSEEum”) in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and we’re on an unfamiliar journey through an otherwise very familiar world.


We have no idea what Esther looks like, but we quickly discover that she is astoundingly adept at navigating this pitch-dark environment. She knows exactly where we are at all times, never more than a metre or two away from us, yet never touching us. With her verbal assistance, we are expertly guided towards a door leading “outside”, to the park. The effect is extraordinary: to our left, birds are singing from the trees and animals are braying from a nearby petting zoo; under the wooden bridge (clip-clop clip-clop) flows a tinkling stream, whilst to our right we hear the drone of distant traffic. It takes a minute or two to absorb it all, but once we do everything seems so clear, so precise. Yet obsidian black. This is a real awakening of the senses.

Onwards we fumble, through a city square (Child #1 finds an abandoned shopping trolley; they get everywhere, don’t they?) and into a shop, where the distinct smells of the fresh fruit and vegetables have never seemed so vivid. Our ultimate objective is to get to a café on the other side of a busy street. We negotiate the dangerous kerbs using our walking canes and listen closely for the fast ticks which indicate when it is safe to cross. Once seated, we order some drinks and Child #2 drops the coin she intended to pay with; there is no hope of recovering it.

As we drain our glasses, we are informed that the tour is almost over. After having spent almost an hour in total darkness, we finally emerge into a half-light and get to see Esther for the first time. She still can’t see us though – like most of the guides at the muZIEum, she is visually impaired; what we have experienced over the past hour is akin to how she experiences the world every day. We feel humbled, thankful, full of respect.


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Getting some practice in before descending into darkness

Our visit to the muZIEum was like nothing I have ever experienced before. My instinctive reaction throughout (which I never fully shifted during the tour) was to constantly bend over and protect my head (perhaps because my only previous experience of perfect darkness was in caves?). On occasions I felt oddly dizzy, and my concept of time was completely distorted (the hour felt more like 20 minutes). Most of all, I was incredibly aware of a vastly heightened sense of hearing; at times my brain couldn’t take it all in, and the distorted, confused noises in my head were almost overpowering.

Upstairs in the main foyer we lingered for an hour or more amidst the fascinating hands-on exhibits. The kids played games blindfolded, wrote their names using braille typewriters, and drew pictures without being able to see their hands (which is much easier said than done…).


Eventually it’s time to venture back out into the (real) streets of Nijmegen, where we cross a busy junction and make a beeline for a café to buy some lunch. Out here in the real world and reunited with all of our senses, it all seems so easy, so effortless. But now we are able to see these seemingly mundane actions from a different perspective.

Our eyes have been well and truly opened.


Practical tips for visiting the muZIEum

  • You’ll find it at Keizer Karelplein 32 H, 6511, NH, Nijmegen just a short walk away from Nijmegen’s main railway and bus station. The “Keizer Karel” car park is also  handily adjacent.
  • Different tours and experiences are available, in Dutch, English or German. We took  a shorter, indoor tour in English (for ages 8 and up), but outdoor experiences are possible (ages 11 and up). Our tour cost €15 for adults and €10 for children.
  • No light-emitting objects (camera, phone etc.) are permitted on the tour. Secure lockers available.
  • In addition to your tour, count on spending at least one additional hour at the museum to experience the excellent hands-on exhibits in the foyer.
  • The foyer café serves hot and cold drinks.

Daisy the bus visited Nijmegen, the Netherlands, in January 2017

(c) 2017 Jonathan Orr

Author: daisythebus

Father-of-four based in Luxembourg. I write about "off the beaten track" travel adventures with my family. Expect to read about nature, outdoor activities, the arts, authenticity, and alternative ways of discovering the world around us.

25 thoughts on “The muZIEum”

  1. What a fantastic idea for a museum and as someone commented above – there should be more types of these museums around the world. What a fascinating experience and so interesting that you said the 1 hour tour felt more like 20 minutes. So much to take in. #culturedkids

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  2. I think this would be a great thing for employers too. Back in my project manager days I worked with two blind IT engineers (both with very different coping mechanisms) and it takes a while for the employer/employee/colleagues to adjust to different ways of working and understanding the challenges that blind people face in the workplace. #Farawayfiles

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  3. What a fantastic idea for a museum! Such a great way of getting children to experience what life is like in someone else’s shoes – something we could all do with at times. It always fascinates me how one’s other senses are heightened when we can’t see. Great post for #FarawayFiles

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  4. What an experience! So interesting to see how you and your senses react when your sight is taken away. Interesting that you felt the tour was a lot shorter than you thought. I can imagine I would be longing to get back into the light. Great experience for all, especially your children. I’ve tired drawing without seeing my hands and it is mighty difficult! #citytripping

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  5. What a fascinating experience- I can only imagine how disorientating it must be to suddenly be deprived of such a major sense. Really valuable for adults and kids and as others have said, truly mind-opening. Thanks for linking up with #citytripping

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  6. It must be a truly fascinating experience for all ages, but what an education for children. Of course it’s novel and fun on one level, but it would make people think long and hard after the first ten minutes have passed, and the novelty is over. It sounds like a real life lesson. #citytripping

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  7. Oh my goodness. What an incredible experience! The only thing remotely similar I’ve heard of is ‘Dans le Noir’, a restaurant here which is completely dark. You get to taste the food without visual stimuli, which is really interesting (I’ve never been but really want to). This experience sounds even more well-rounded, though. #citytripping

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    1. That restaurant idea also sounds fascinating! The idea is the same – take away one of our five senses, and instinctively the remaining four (and particularly in that case, taste) are heightened, leading to some very interesting experiences. Thanks for reading – this one will also be added to your #CulturedKids link-up in the near future.

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    1. It really is a superb museum / experience. Funnily enough I also am slightly uncomfortable about using the obvious “eye opening” pun (indeed, “mind opening” may be more accurate). However, the official marketing slogan of the museum is “Opent je de ogen” (“Open your eyes”); I reckoned that if they can use the pun, so can I! 😉 Thanks for reading.

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  8. What an amazing experience! What were your kids reactions to it? I never heard of this museum before but if we have a chance to visit, we’ll go. Thanks for pointing it out.

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    1. My kids thoroughly enjoyed the tour. Child #2 is 8 years old, the minimum age required by the museum to take part in this tour, and I think this is correct: she was rather frightened at the beginning but soon became used to it. The tour is also short enough for kids of this age (and upwards) to enjoy without getting bored. Overall, it gave the children a real hands-on understanding of what it is like to be blind / visually impaired, and I’m sure they will remember this experience for many, many years.

      Thanks for reading!

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