On Saturday we were invited to a birthday party in another city. As we had to drive there we decided to not spend the day at the desk but instead go on a day trip on our way to the party and while we were on the road anyway we chose to visit the exhibit on Otto IV.
Otto IV is labeled a footnote emperor for he is not very well known. In 1209 he became emperor and due to his 800th coronation anniversary his suggested but uncertain birth town helds an exhibit. Despite him being largely unknown his history is quite interesting, so to say. After Emperor Heinrich VI died in 1197 and his son was too young to become king some princes of the Empire decided to elect Philip, Duke of Swabia, to become king instead. Otto decided to become king as well, and his uncle Richard of England helped him to become elected. While Philip had the real regalia, Otto was crowned in the right town, Cologne, by the right Archbishop – and he became the favorite candidate of the pope.
The next years were dominated by the battles among the two rival kings – and the decision fell after Philip was murdered (because he did not keep his marriage promise). After Philip’s death in 1208 Otto was crowned again in 1209 and reigned until 1218.

The exhibit had interesting parts and parts that were not very well set up. I would have started the exhibit problem-oriented like “Otto IV is unknown but his history as one of two rival kings is pretty interesting and here we show you why”. Instead the visitors are facing genealogy, and most of the texts are not very well written.
Then we read about Otto’s youth and suddenly Heinrich IV dies and two rival kings show up. On a little computer in a corner I finally found the information that I was missing – how an emperor was elected, and which role the princes of the empire played – and how all this controversy could arose. This should not be additional information but central on the main tables instead. I have a pretty good historic knowledge, and if I am not understanding context I do not want to know how people with less knowledge are dealing with exhibits like this.

Lots of the item of displays were labeled with those wonderful terms that only historians might know and most of them lacked to be interwoven into the storyline. Why do we see them here, what do they represent, and what is so important about them?

The second half of the exhibit – after I finally had gathered enough information that I could sort new information into kind of a cognitive pattern – was indeed better.

The party was really really nice. Lots of interesting chats and discussions that had nothing to do with my academic field which was a nice change. Wonderful food, live music by some guests – a great evening.

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