The bones of the hand of Mrs F. Bridgeman, wearing a finger ring, showing a broken wrist. Photograph of X-ray, 1911. ~ Credit: Wellcome Library, London

Researching Medical History in Germany (1100 A.D.–1930)

What did a doctor’s workplace look like?


The chances are, if you write a novel, there will be drama. Your protagonists will get sick, hurt, stabbed, fall off a horse, suffer from an unknown disease or drown in the sea — right?

If your next novel is set in Europe — or Germany — how about exploring some very special doctor’s workplaces? That’s where you could get ideas from for health-related scenes & conflicts.


Listed in chronological order.

A bonus from the Imperium Romanum: The Roman surgeon

How about a collection of 66 (!) surgical instruments that were actually used by a Roman military doctor? Among them are pincettes, lancets and cups for cupping. The full set of surgical instruments, made from bronze & iron and used in the 2nd century A.D., can be seen in Bingen, Rhineland-Palatinate. You probably won’t find another set with more surgical instruments in the Roman imperium! If you write about the daily life of a Roman medical doctor, be sure to check this out.

(The Bingen Museum also has an interesting section on Medieval medicine — which I will tell you about in a minute).


Medieval times: St Hildegard

„Liber Divinorum Operum“ von Hildegard von Bingen ~ Lizenziert unter Gemeinfrei über Wikimedia Commons -
„Liber Divinorum Operum“ von Hildegard von Bingen. Lizenziert gemeinfrei via Wikimedia Commons.

If you’ve ever dipped a toe into exploring medieval ways of healing, you’ve probably heard of St Hildegard. Born in Germany around 1098 A.D., she wrote several books on plant-based remedies. This nun & abbess spent almost her whole life in different monasteries near Bingen, so the local museum hosts a special exhibition about her and her medical concepts. They also show Hildegard’s illuminated medical manuscripts.

Museum am Strom
D-55411 Bingen am Rhein
Museumstraße 3

Read the museum website here.

About Hildegard & her region (in English):



The Medieval Public Bathing House

In Kulmbach, Northern Bavaria, you can visit a historical bathing house. It was first mentioned in 1398, and the locals used it until 1806. Today, you can enter this tiny house, see the stove which was used to heat the water, and learn more about the profession of the barber surgeon. In medieval times, this man didn’t only offer hair cuts, but also medical treatments like extracting rotten teeth & cupping.

D-95326 Kulmbach
Bauergasse 4
Read more here (in German):

Click here to see some photos of the interior.

Bathing and cupping in the sixteenth century. Woodcut by Jost Amman. ~ Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
Woodcut by Jost Amman. ~ Credit: Wellcome Library, London


Bathing & cupping in the sixteenth century.


The Invention of Modern Surgery, 1600-1700

Wilhelm Fabry (*1560 in Germany) is said to be the father of modern surgery in Germany. You can see Fabry’s publications & surgical instruments in his birth-town Hilden near Düsseldorf. Read more here:



A military Hospital, dating from 1813

1813 was a time of war. Napoleon’s troops were spread all over Europe. If you want to write about the time around 1800, the “Lazarettmuseum” near Leipzig has you covered. Learn more about …

* the weapons of this era (and the wounds they actually caused)
* the surgical methods
* how military medicine was organized in the different regions of the Napoleonic era
* and how local farmers (!) helped to save wounded soldiers.

See several photos:

Sanitäts- und Lazarettmuseum 
D-04463 Großpösna, Ortsteil Seifertshain
Pfarrgasse 2
(app. 20 min away from Leipzig)

Contact and map

The museum website (in German):



Conflicts around rapid medical-technical Progess, 1800-1900

In the TECHNOSEUM Mannheim, a special exhibition on medical history in Germany explores the technical improvements during the 19th century (visit it before June 7, 2015). In Mannheim, you can compare “old” and “new” medical methods or instruments (see several photos here).

Concerning medicine, the 19th century was a time of rapid improvement — and it was also a time of optimism. German medical doctors started to systematise, teach and publish more than ever before. They devised new methods and spread their knowledge quickly around the globe. The Mannheim exhibition captures these improvements. Learn more about 19th century artificial limbs or glass eyes, new standards in hygiene and new surgical methods, new microbiological methods that were invented or introduced back then.

A stroll through the exhibition halls can spark countless ideas for novelists and authors.

Because: If you look beyond the surface, you can easily spot the conflicts between the old standards & the new methods; between the new male-dominated, university-standard way of medicine, and — for instance: concerning birth — the degradation of female midwives. 

At that time, Germany was one of the world’s leading nations in medical progress. What might have happened when German doctors started to practise/teach medicine in Japan or other foreign countries? 

This should give you endless ideas for your next novel.

TECHNOSEUM Exhibition Hall
D-68165 Mannheim, Museumsstr. 1

Read the exhibition  website here (in English)

or in German:

Get the catalogue (in German, but with plenty of images).



The Idea of medical Water Treatment, 1900-1930

If you want to write about the extremely popular water treatments in the Spas, this city is a good place to start: Bad Gottleuba, app. 40 minutes away from Dresden. The history team has restored …

* An x-ray department dating from the year 1929

(Please click on the blue link, then click on the little thumbnail at the bottom of each page; this will enlarge the images).

* an original operation room, dating from 1930

* an apparatus for water treatment (which was extremely popular around 1900)

* a patient’s room

* the nurses’ room

* the historical laboratory

* and the morgue, dating from 1913.

You can also learn more about the history of water treatment and explore the library which has many books and documents covering almost a 100 years of medical treatments.

Historische Sammlungen
im Gesundheitspark Bad Gottleuba e. V.
D-01816 Bad Gottleuba, Hauptstraße 39
Contact via email here.
Their website (in German, with photos):



A Medical Practice, dating from 1927

Dr. med. J. Böttger opened his very modern practice in the late 1920s. Today it is still open to visitors. You can even see the historical x-ray apparatus, a sunray lamp and other items the doctor & his team used in daily life — a perfect glimpse into the German past.

Historical medical practice
D-09217 Burgstädt, Rochlitzer Straße 2
App. 1 hour away from Dresden

Open: Usually Sundays, 2 to 5 p.m. Check their website (in German) for further information.

Medical History in Germany: Hildegard of Bingen, doctor in 1920s.
The bones of the hand of Mrs F. Bridgeman, wearing a finger ring, showing a broken wrist. Photograph of X-ray, 1911. ~ Credit: Wellcome Library, London


~ Other articles in the current series on Medicine are … 

* The daily life of a sea surgeon (1700)

* How to use medical images for conducting research?