Friday, July 29, 2011

Museum Reviews....Hið Íslenzka Reðasafn

Another museum that is Iceland is famous for is Hið Íslenzka Reðasafn. But you might know it as the Icelandic Phallological Museum, or "The Penis Museum". Or maybe you've never heard of it at all and you're wondering "why the heck is there a penis museum? I don't want to hear about this!" Well too bad.

Hið Íslenzka Reðasafn is located in the northeastern part of Iceland in a harbor town called Húsavík, which is also well-known for being a big whale-watching area. If you ever come to Iceland, you will see big, glossy yellow pamphlets advertising whale watching. Those come from Húsavík. Oddly enough, however, the town is not known for it's whale museum. But given a choice between a room full of bones and a room full of boners, I think you know what most people pick.
Húsavík is actually pretty large by Icelandic standards. Over 2,000 people live there. They have all of the usual fare for large-ish towns, including a grocery store, several restaurants, a bakery, and a tourist information center. There is also a very charming café called Skuld, which is a good place to stop for a coffee and a snack (Coffee is buy one, get one free refill).

Hið Íslenzka Reðasafn opens at noon, which is pretty late, even by Icelandic standards, but it stays open until 18:00. It's closed entirely from September to May. The good news about all of this is that it appears to be slated for new management and a big move to Reykjavík sometime next year. I also expect that the admission fee will increase with the move. It's already a slightly pricey 800 ISK (most comparable museums cost 500 ISK) and they only take cash, so make sure you have some kronur before you visit.

The museum is owned by Sigurður Hjartarson, who seems like he would be a pretty jovial guy, considering what he does for a living. However, he seemed to be in a pretty gruff mood on the day we visited. I suppose there are only so many times you can greet giddy tourists before getting a little sour. On the day we visited, we arrived a little early, and we milled around with the handful of other tourists who were also waiting out front taking photos of the building. I've never seen people wait so eagerly outside of a museum before. And especially not in Iceland, where there are such thrilling attractions as The Sea Ice Exhibition Center and the Herring Museum. I'm not sure what level of entertainment can be expected from the Phallologcal Museum beyond lumpy masses floating in yellowed formaldehyde, but there we were.
The owner of the museum is more interesting than the actual museum, and probably more of a treasure. You can read about him on a print-out (offered in several different languages) found on a center table in the main display room. He is highly educated, holds a degree in history and has written and translated several books, including some written in Spanish and Latin. So how did this guy end up surrounded by penes (yes, that is the plural of penis)? As a child, Siggi was given a whip called a "pizzle" which is made from a dried bull penis. You can see it, along with a few others, in the museum. Apparently this knowledge leaked to some of his friends as an adult and he received a good amount of ribbing for it. The teasing culminated with some of his fishermen friends severing the penis from a caught whale and presenting it to him as a gift. This unnerving trend continued for about ten years until he had a sizable collection and put them on display in this little building.

After paying 800 kronur, you are given a rather confusing booklet in the language of your choice and let loose in the building. It's a fairly small room completely lined with stuffed, mounted, pickled, and otherwise preserved penes, plus a fair smattering of art mixed in, most of it humorous. The booklet is meant to be followed by number, but I found it difficult to locate the numbers on specimens, because not every specimen has a number, and they seem to be slightly out of order. But it doesn't matter. The information is a little hard to decipher, and it's pretty boring anyway. It's easy enough to glean information by intuition.

You can see the largest item in the collection, a blue whale penis which is fun to stand next to for photo comparison, and the smallest, which belonged to a hamster. That one is a little more difficult to see.
Here's the thing about penes, and it's true for both humans and animals. If you've seen one, you've seen them all. There's surprisingly little variety in the penis world, and most of them are slightly terrifying, vaguely corkscrew shaped spears. The penis of a whale looks remarkably like the penis of a polar bear and all the rest of them look the same, too. At least when 276 of them are floating in jars, it's hard to tell.

The museum is also famous for having a human specimen, but it's nowhere to be found. There is a cast of one in the front room, and a couple of papers signed by men who have agreed to donate theirs upon death. A 98 year old man died and donated his last year, but the removal wasn't entirely successful and the penis turned brown and shriveled up, making it unsuitable for display. Siggi commented, "it doesn't really matter. He was an old guy and I will get a younger and bigger and better one later", which is possibly the most hilariously blasé quote I've ever read. Again, it's a mystery to me why this would be the main attraction for the collection. A human penis is the easiest type of penis to find. I could go outside right now, and in ten minutes of asking around, I bet I could find one to look at. Not to be crude, but hey, I'm reviewing a penis museum here, so cut me some slack.

The most interesting part of the Icelandic Phallological museum, to me, was the anthropological and artistic contributions. A glass case to one side is full of knick-knacks and charms from around the world, ranging from tasteless to captivating. Elsewhere, there's an aerial photo of the Smáralind mall in Reykjavík, which looks exactly like an erect penis (Google it), newspaper clippings, and charming drawings by the owner's young daughter. There are actually a lot of things to look at in this small space, but somehow interest is lost rather quickly (is that a metaphor or what?). And perhaps it's my American prudishness, but I felt a little uncomfortable oggling all of that meat. I did get it together enough to pose for one photo next to an African elephant penis...
The intention was the compare the size between that and my tattoo, which is a .22 bullet but holds a very close resemblance to....well, you guessed it. It's such a close representation that I offered it to the owner for inspection. He looked at it, looked up at me, and asked me if that's where I like to keep it. "Yeah I like to have it handy", I replied, and he sort of shook his head at me and went back to what he was doing. So that was my big contribution to the Icelandic Phallological Museum, and as for me, I can safely say that it was the only time in my life where I will ever pay money to look at male organs.

So is it worth a visit?
Yes. Absolutely. Not because it's particularly interesting, but just because you can say you were there. I really think this is the reason that most people go. And many do! Attendance exceeds 11,000 each year, and it's interesting to note that 60% of visitors are women. This might just be because there are more women on earth than men and that's bound to happen almost anywhere, but maybe men are simply a little more sympathetic.
One more highlight from your visit here would be the postcards. They are cheaply printed and little pixelated, but from where else can you send your friend a photo of a human micropenis, a woman balancing upside down on a man's erection, or a child's drawing of things that they probably shouldn't be drawing?
Only at the Icelandic Phallogical Museum, that's where.


  1. Sea ice and herring? I can't wait! Hey, Smaralind, nice dick mall! And finally, that Fibonacci sequence really does show up everywhere...