Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Duncan JD Smith, urban explorer extraordinaire, introduces us to the world of medical moulage, a technique that was used to reproduce the physical manifestations of various diseases and dermatological conditions. Welcome to Zurich’s Moulage Museum.

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We have from time to time in hidden europe featured the writing of Duncan JD Smith, urban explorer extraordinaire, whose work nicely unpicks the textured detail of communities across Europe. Duncan’s book ‘Only in Zurich’ is published next month, the first Swiss title in a series that already encompasses Budapest, Prague, Vienna, Berlin, Cologne, Munich and Hamburg (for more details see www.onlyinguides.com). All the books are authored by Duncan and published by Christian Brandstätter Verlag. We have had a sneek preview of the upcoming Zurich book. It uncovers another Zurich from that described in regular guidebooks, revealing the pleasures of dining in a former factory, touring the city’s waste water treatment plant, attending a Hare Krishna temple ceremony, or playing pinball in an underground garage. With the kind permission of Duncan and his publisher, we present here a slightly adapted extract from ‘Only in Zurich’. A German language edition of the book, entitled ‘Nur in Zürich’, is also released this spring by the same publisher.

Until the 1950s, when high-quality colour photography became affordable, anatomy students were sometimes taught using accurate, life-sized wax models. Known as medical moulage, from the French word for ‘casting’ or ‘moulding’, such models were undoubtedly more appealing to handle than real bodies. The last professional moulageuse, Elsbeth Stoiber, retired in 1963 from the University of Zurich, leaving behind some 1,800 examples of her art. Since 2005 these have been on permanent display in what is undoubtedly Zurich’s most curious museum: the Moulage Museum (Moulagenmuseum) at Haldenbachstrasse 14 in Zurich’s Oberstrass district.

The technique of medical moulage was pioneered in Renaissance Italy during the late seventeenth century by Gaetano Giulio Zummo (1656–1701).

This is just an excerpt. If you are a subscriber to hidden europe magazine, you can log in to read the full text online. Of course you can also read the full article in the print edition of hidden europe 36.


Having worked for many years in the publishing industry selling other travel writers’ books, Duncan J. D. Smith decided in 2003 to start writing and illustrating his own. As a self-styled ‘Urban Explorer’, travel writer, historian and photographer he has embarked on a lifetime’s adventure, travelling off the beaten track in search of the world’s unique, hidden and unusual locations. He has so far traversed four continents in search of curious places and people, from the wartime bunkers of Berlin and the baroque gardens of Prague to the souks of Damascus and the rock-cut churches of Ethiopia. His European findings are being published in a ground breaking series of guidebooks – the Only In Guides – which have been designed specifically for the purpose. Volumes on Berlin, Boston, Budapest, Cologne, Edinburgh, Hamburg, London, Munich, Paris, Prague, Vienna and Zurich have been published, with Krakow in preparation.

Duncan divides his time between England and Central Europe, and is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. Find out more about Duncan and his work at www.duncanjdsmith.com and www.onlyinguides.com.

This article was published in hidden europe 36.