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A visit to the Greisinger (Tolkien) Museum

    Greisinger Museum Switzerland Hobbit Hole Entrance

    Photo: The entrance to the museum.

    The Greisinger Museum is a private collection of Tolkien related items, art, and memorabilia hidden in the unlikely little Swiss village of Jenins. I came across this when researching for my post about following Tolkien around Switzerland and thought that someone building a Hobbit hole in the their garden had to be worth checking out. It is an amazing collection and work of passion, but is very much let down by a terrible tour.

    There are a few reviews on TripAdvisor which sum up my experience perfectly (for example this one by WhatDoIWrite). I had seen these and hoped that it was just an exaggeration, or that the feedback had been seen and things had changed in the meantime. Nope.

    Entry is by pre-booked guided tour (50 CHF) which is usually only at weekends. I visited in September 2023 and did the 10:10 – 14:40 tour with Bernd Greisinger in English. I had been looking forward to this but my review is not positive – I would not recommend this in the slightest. However I thought this was the shortest, but in retrospect I realised that there are slightly shorter tours with other hosts which might offer a much better experience (they certainly can’t be worse).

    They were very relaxed on tickets at least. A couple who left due to feeling ill were very clearly told that they could reuse their ticket whenever.

    Logistics

    I stayed in nearby Bad Ragaz as a compromise on practical transport connections and as somewhere that looked interesting in itself. It is a handsome little resort town with the spas that the name implies and the Tamina Schlucht starts right from the town centre – plus there are various mountain and lake outings a short ride away (I arrived by cycling along the Walensee, and then carried on by cycling up over the Kunkelspass).

    A bus runs hourly from Bad Ragaz to Landquart via Jenins and the start of the tour was perfectly timed for the arrival of the bus into the village. The ride across the valley was very beautiful; passing through vineyards and old towns with mountains towering overhead.

    Jenins is a lovely little village surrounded by vineyards and just high enough to have a fantastic view up the valley towards Chur. The museum is in the garden/under a house a few minutes walk away from either the Rathaus or Sonne bus stops. There aren’t any signs other than directly outside the house itself – so have mobile data or maps downloaded to be sure of finding the way.

    At the house signs direct you into the garden, which has a fantastic view down the valley, to the Hobbit hole entrance to the museum where you wait for the tour to begin.

    Greisinger Museum Garden
    Arrival in the garden.

    Part 1: The Atrium

    It started off well.

    The round door opened and we were invited into the hobbit hole. Everyone was clearly excited and we could see several beautifully done rooms leading away. Entering the little atrium we put our bags on the hooks, and then stayed there for 3 hours.

    Our host introduced himself, then went around the room to learn who we were and what level of Tolkien knowledge we had. I had expected the group to consist of older die-hard Tolkien nerds, but at 35 I felt like one oldest and the level of Tolkien consumption was surprisingly mixed for an obscure museum with a rather high price tag. Then Bernd started to introduce the theme of the museum and just kept on talking.

    It turned out that the guided tour included a mandatory 2.5+ hour lecture by the owner on his thesis on Tolkien and Germanic history/culture which nobody wanted, but when the person who owns the place wants to lecture you it is his way or go home. I have never sat through a timeshare presentation but this must be what it is like (the Asspen episode of South Park came to mind a number of times). I assumed that at any minute it would finally stop, but it just kept going. There is an episode of the Simpsons which parodies Star Wars Episode 1 which sums up the disappointing experience pretty accurately.

    Greisinger Museum
    The entrance, we got very familiar with this area.
    Greisinger Museum
    The middle room in the Hobbit hole section.

    Keep in mind this wasn’t a lecture theatre with proper seating (despite him showing off his comfy family cinema with more than enough seating at the end). This was in a small room with low ceilings, 3 hard wooden seats, and a tiled floor. There was at least a toilet to hand and the kind offer of filling our bottles up from the sink… (this also straddled lunchtime with no offer of refreshments or a break).

    Bernd isn’t a good speaker. He can certainly talk, but despite having clearly established who we were and what we knew there was no consideration or adaptation for the audience, and his style is very much that of a bullying teacher who is always right. I found it to be very tedious and I am at least a native speaker with a decent exposure to Tolkien’s works and related mythologies. Among the other guests was a 12 year old German girl who was enthusiastic about Tolkien but only had basic English skills (accompanied by her poor dad who didn’t have any) who had to suffer through something I wouldn’t inflict on university students. Even if he really insists on sharing these ideas then all the key points could have been made more effectively and to an alert audience in 30 minutes or less.

    For such a big Tolkien fan he had a surprising tendency to claim absolutes about the inspirations for Tolkien’s works which any serious academic wouldn’t go near (e.g. the Battle of the Pelennor Fields WAS the Battle of Lechfeld.). He also managed to mangle quotes and facts, for example turning Tolkien saying ‘[The Shire] is in fact more or less a Warwickshire village of about the period of the Diamond Jubilee’ into meaning that Tolkien said people from Warwickshire (and 3 randomly chosen surrounding counties) in the English Midlands are Hobbits (and only they are Hobbits). Or outright inventing things, like the claim that Trümmelbach waterfall in the Lauterbrunnen valley is the source of the drums in the deep of Moria because it is underground, Trommel is the German word for drum, and Tolkien passed close to there so might have been aware of it.

    That was a bit of a rant and I don’t normally bang on about things for so long (or even mention specific people at all), but the whole experience just boggles my mind. I didn’t expect museum fatigue before actually getting into the museum.

    Part 2: The Museum

    Things finally improved when we got to move on beyond the cloakroom. That said we started off by losing one group member who had planned for a 3 hour tour, not a 3 hour introduction talk, and had to rush for his train. The talk had already killed off one lady who was feeling a bit ill and couldn’t take any more after an hour, giving the whole thing a slightly Willy Wonka feeling as group members dropped out.

    The museum itself consists of 8 or 9 themed rooms and a series of connecting corridors. We were led between them as a group taking 10 minutes or so in each room to wander around and admire the objects on display whilst Bernd talked and sometimes pulled special hidden items out to show off. We were free to take photos in most places – only one short area was deemed off limits for apparent copyright reasons.

    The first 3 rooms are the Hobbit hole, then the route goes inside/underground through rooms themed around things like the Dwarfs, Elves, Gondor, and the forest. Some rooms were quite big and light with high ceilings, others were rather cramped and dark with little room to move given the size of the group (and a watchful eye from our guide to shout at anyone who stumbled too close to an object on a wall). As a warning it is not well suited to those with accessibility issues: there are several staircases and no seating options.

    Greisinger Museum
    The staircase down into Moria.
    Greisinger Museum
    The dwarf section.

    Typically the items on display in each room were original paintings and film weapon props/replicas on the walls, and merchandise like figurines. Some rooms also had drawers from which comics or scripts were occasionally pulled out to be waved around or display cabinets with first edition books or letters written by Tolkien. Some of it, like the artwork was very unique and interesting, other parts felt like it could just have been a display of film figurines for sale in any video game/comic book store.

    The amount of effort put into the design was impressive. Each room was decorated to match the theme with large figures and carvings as centrepieces. The giant Treebeard leaning overhead as you walk into the forest room was especially memorable. It isn’t high-end theme park in quality, but not bad for something in someone’s basement.

    Sadly even after getting the ‘introduction’ lecture out of the way it felt more like we were being escorted by an exasperated teacher who had spent weeks trying to teach their students a basic concept rather than someone trying to share their love of something with the world. The longer I spent around Bernd the more he felt like a mix of Comic Book Guy and the rich kid in cartoons rubbing his nice things in everyone else’s face.

    For example in the Hobbit hole was a painting of the Hobbits enjoying their one night in Frodo’s house at Crickhollow. I would say this was a very minor point in the story that even those who had read the books multiple times could easily forget (I would have if I hadn’t re-read it recently), but Bernd felt the need to point it out and ask the group about it. This wasn’t a ‘Oh this is an interesting plot point which many of you won’t have come across before’ it was much more ‘Why don’t you know this? Were you idiots not paying any attention!?!?’.

    Greisinger Museum
    Greisinger Museum

    Again and again we heard how ‘wrong’ the films were in their depiction. Despite this a significant chunk of the collection on display consisted of props/models and artwork from the films. Including a life sized Gandalf wearing the ‘wrong’ clothing.

    The last room was the family cinema with a giant Smaug hanging from the ceiling (something that must be very distracting during films). This served as a final chance to lecture us on what a dragon should look like and how silly Peter Jackson is with the dragon and big black arrow design in the Hobbit films (the black arrow was prominently displayed on the wall, it takes a special kind of person to buy an original prop only to lecture people on how stupid it is). We did at least get comfy seating.

    Finally the tour went through the giant garage (with more big objects and a vast number of boxes) and into a bar/club room where seating and drinks were offered. But by then I just wanted to get out and have a few minutes of fresh air before my bus arrived.

    Greisinger Museum Smaug
    A giant suspended Smaug.

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