Volkmar Wywiol is the owner of Mühlenchemie – a manufacturer of flour improvers – in Ahrensburg, near Hamburg, and the initiator of the FlourWorld Museum, an attraction unique of its kind in the world. In this interview Volkmar Wywiol explains what motivated him to do something out of the ordinary for the international milling community.
What triggered the idea for the FlourWorld Museum?Quite often it’s pure chance that intervenes in the course of our lives and inspires us to do something unexpected. In this case it was an empty flour sack from our Arab customer “Emigrain” that was washed up at my feet on the beach in Dubai in 1998. I was electrified; I took the sack to my hotel, washed it and took it back to Hamburg with me. As a good omen for our company claim, “Mühlenchemie makes good flours even better”. It was the start of an unprecedented collection of items from all the corners of the earth, but also as a mark of respect and admiration for the achievements and commitment of millers. The FlourWorld Museum now houses a remarkable “milling treasure” of over 3,000 flour sacks from 130 countries.
What is so fascinating about flour sacks?These apparently mundane and commonplace bags can tell us a lot. There are endless stories hidden behind the chosen names and symbols that make the sacks real works of art. Symbols as an expression of archaic knowledge that is often no longer perceptible except to the subconscious mind. They reflect the cultural region from which they originate. And all of them demonstrate the enormous significance of flour for man, as one of the world’s most important staple foods.
Can you give us some examples of the hidden meaning of the logos on the sacks?
The sun is often depicted as a symbol of life, perhaps its most powerful symbol. Lions and other Big Cats symbolize the strength imparted by the flour. The same is true of muscular men breaking iron chains. The Mother of God in a garment of ears of corn stands for the purity of the flour. She is the field on which Jesus grows. And in the depictions of saints we can distinguish the original legend of corn as a gift of God. We find this fascination with the fundamental on nearly all the flour sacks that make up the FlourWorld Museum.
How did the name FlourWorld come about?When the museum was established and opened in 2008 it was initially called the “flour art museum”. What interested us was the “art of the sack”. But in the meantime the many questions from visitors have shown us that the museum has a much broader task to fulfil.
Our aim is to emphasize the significance of flour as one of the world’s most important staple foods. At a time when the world’s population is exploding we hope to underline today’s challenges of ensuring a global supply of food as well as providing information on flour and its cultural and historical significance.
What are the individual goals you have set yourself?Our goals are ambitious. What are the important growing areas for what? What do we know about the composition and quality of flours and their various baking properties, about the diversity of baked goods in the world and milling technology? But they also include:
- Showing the significance of flour as the world’s most important food and the way it is treated and processed today;
- Transfer of knowledge: “What is flour?”
- Creating an awareness of global interrelationships;
- Presenting the art of baking worldwide: “This is how the world eats and enjoys its food!”
Yes – flour is life! And that is what we are showing.
Where is the museum?Mühlenchemie has its production facility in the little town of Wittenburg, about 75 kilometres east of Hamburg on the road to Berlin. The town council has provided us with a wonderful “listed” building from the year 1850 that we have converted into a museum at great expense with funds of our own. It has an exhibition area of 800 m².
What is the connection between the museum and Mühlenchemie as a well-known manufacturer of flour improvers?The museum is an important expression of Mühlenchemie’s corporate culture. Besides pursuing its business targets the company attaches great importance to moral and ethical responsibility in all its activities. These two factors determine our entrepreneurial thinking and action, together with understanding, tolerance, courage, creativity and enthusiasm. In other words: with culture. The museum is a visible expression of this corporate philosophy.
Who are the visitors to the museum?The visitors are interested individuals from different regions, and also school groups. But we have millers from many parts of the world, too, who combine a tour of the museum with a visit to our trial bakery and milling laboratory and take part in a training course there.
The flour sacks collected and catalogued here and examined for their cultural and artistic significance are an expression of the great, worldwide community of millers to which we all owe so much.
The FlourWorld Museum is unique and offers fascinating insights into art and culture. We have dedicated it to all the millers of the world.