First, the abdominal wall is cut open. From here, the skin is gradually removed with careful and calm cuts. From the abdomen, through the legs – cut off at the knee – to the head. Meat and fat residues are carefully removed.
Ultimately, the rat’s skin and hair are pulled from the body in one piece and pulled tight. Even before the animal’s corpse is fully exposed, a sweet smell is in the air. Initially only slightly noticeable, gradually smelling more and more clearly. The smell keeps Corinna Seifert cold, it’s part of her job.
“I think you will really get used to it,” says the 25-year-old trainee in the preparation department at the Erfurt Museum of Natural History. For a year she has been instructed by the taxidermist Ralf Nowak in the field of working methods and preparation techniques. During three years of practice, Seifert learned to create specimens for exhibitions and skins for scientific work. Leather is peeled animal skin with fur or feathers.
From a small bird to a large bison
From little birds to bison, anything can be there. Here Seifert is responsible for the work process from the dead animal to the finished product: measuring, peeling off the skin, replicating and re-covering the skin.
In 2024, it is to completely replace the 64-year-old Nowak, who then wants to retire. Until then, there is much to be done. “Let me start modestly,” says the native of Leipzig, looking at the rat on her desk. “And at some point I can also become bigger.” If you look through her stuffed birds at the head of the table to the other half of the room, you can see what she means. Nowak is currently working there on a replica of a pygmy hippo.
The animal from the zoo in Pilsen in the Czech Republic lay in a cold store for several years before the taxidermist could take care of it. Neither defrosting nor processing in the tannery did any good for the skin. “If I pull it up now, it looks smooth like a bathing cap.” Nowak is trying to create a faithful replica of every smallest kink and every leg muscle of Styrodur and construction foam.
A profession in constant change
»People still say the animals are stuffed. But that’s not true, explains Frank-Michael Weigner, president of the Association of German Taxidermists. While hides were once filled with straw, today plastics are mainly used for dermoplasts. 3D technology and plastics – a centuries-old profession is constantly changing.
The association is the only professional representation in Germany and has around 450 members. According to Weigner, about 250 of them can be located in zoological contexts and museums such as Nowak and Seifert. In total, he assumes that there are about 2,000 taxiderms in Germany. There are no exact numbers. Finding offspring like Seifert is a problem. “Some degree of aging becomes noticeable very, very slowly,” says Weigner. “There is more than coming.”
30 new students every year
In Germany, a total of 30 students enter the Bochum vocational school every year as state-certified assistants. The vocational school in Bochum is the only training center for these professions in Germany.
Seifert attended the vocational school for chemistry, graphics and creative professions (CGG) in Vienna. In winter, he will be there for the next block seminar. Until then, she will continue working with Nowak in her room at the Natural History Museum. She has been waiting for six years and many internships to start working as a taxidermist at a museum. She was lucky to be so close to her hometown, Leipzig, in Erfurt. “Little commuter to Vienna” does not bother her either.
You have to like animals for this job
However, travel also has disadvantages: as long as she commutes from Erfurt to Vienna for block seminars, her own pet remains a vision of the future. He prefers living animals to dead animals. “You have to like animals to do this job,” he says. “It takes a little passion.” According to Seifert, only those who closely observe animals can present them as vividly and faithfully as possible after death. She sees having her own pet as a gain for herself and her work.
However, unlike young taxidermists, they react to the smell of dead animals. “I wear work clothes every now and then, so on my way home. And then really every dog turns around. «
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Walter Gropius Vocational School
Pygmy hippopotamus from Pilzno
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