There’s a Polish saying, “wyjść jak Zabłocki na mydle” (literally “to make a deal like Zabłocki with his soap”), which means to make a bad deal, make a loss. But this is definitely not the case when it comes to the Museum of Soap and the History of Dirt, which was opened in 2012 in the Polish city of Bydgoszcz. It is the only museum of this kind in Europe, and a remarkably interesting one.
Nowadays, having a collection of soap bars in our homes and using them frequently is a standard. We wash our bodies every day, and we know how to wash our hands properly, which is the easiest, best and most effective way to prevent the spreading of germs and diseases.
But this hasn’t always been the case. In the Middle Ages, bathing was sinful and it was frowned upon. People believed that letting water touch their naked bodies could actually make them sick. Or at least let the devil enter their souls. After all, bathing was considered to be sexual debauchery. Luckily, as time passed, people’s attitude towards hygiene and medicine changed, washing became the cultural norm, and somewhere around the 1700’s commercial soap-making started to thrive.
The bumpy road to achieving our modern hygiene standards is something you won’t find in textbooks. They don’t teach this at school. The Museum of Soap and the History of Dirt does just that. It teaches the history of hygiene in a witty way, through fun facts, anecdotes, and by involving all of your senses. You’ll be allowed to look, to smell, to touch, to get into old wash tubs, or try out washboards. You’ll learn which everyday objects have the largest amount of germs on them, how much money people spend on soap, and who the dirtiest king in human history was. But before you do all that, you’ll have a chance to try to make your own soap bar.
And why Bydgoszcz? Perhaps because it has a long soap-making tradition. Perhaps because it has a detergent and cosmetics factory. Or perhaps just to motivate you to step off the beaten track during your trip to Poland, and visit this beautiful city, located just a stone’s throw away from Toruń. And when you do, make sure not to miss this fascinating museum.
All photos are courtesy of the Museum of Soap and the History of Dirt. Please note that the museum requires making a reservation prior to your visit.