Street Organ History Expo in Berlin

With the title: “Musica di Strada” or “Street Music” the organ making history is at the Pankow Volkshochschule Museum in Berlin, Germany. In cooperation with “The International Street Organ Fraternity of Berlin”, this expo narrates how families like Bacigalupo, Graffigna and Cocchi families founded the first workshops of mechanical music at Germany and northern Europe.

In the 1800´s the street organ players used to carry the instrument in a “wagon” and roam the streets of Berlin

The exhibition begins narrating the Italian migration mid XIX century in which travelers made a trade circuit through the northern lands. It is estimated that about 14 million Italians left their country in the second half of the century. Many of the migrants worked at cities as showman on the streets. Time before at the “Renascence” in Italy the mechanical music had his apogee and during this migrations instruments were brought and finally merged with German music making techniques.

The workshop of mechanical music street organs had his own sales store. At the picture we can see the instruments for sale at that time.

Exposed information show specially the life and work of Italians settled in Prenzlauer Berg, a little village at the north of what will become Berlin´s city. This was the main place for the street organ making by the Italians. The most important street was “Shönhauser Allee”, at this location instruments were made and exported all over the world – including Mexico-. Actually, we can still see nowadays street organs in Mexico city made at Prenzlauer Berg.

Image at the exhibition titled: “The Mexican Organilleras

Bacigalupo family was huge. They made street organs throughout generations, from the XIX century to the 80´s. In the middle of the picture we see two woman from the family whom worked at the factories.

Italians settled in Germany had great success. Then they started moving to other regions of Europe. One important journey was made by the street organ maker Frati, he traveled to the northern lands. Orchestrions (big street organs with mechanical tambourines and automatons) became quite popular. Later on, families migrated to North of America, particularly New York. They started to make instruments for the American market but with less success. Actually street organ playing was banned from the streets of N.Y.

To make street organs easier and faster, machines where invented and production increased. At the picture is a keyboard to tune the pipes without the need of the actual street organ.

Within the info at the expo is a booth exclusively dedicated to the Chilean Liliana family, which became the main street organ building family at the last decade fo the XX century. In Chile the old street organ maker techniques where kept alive at first by this family. Also at this exhibit is shown a mention to the street organ tradition in Mexico. Many of the instruments made at Prenzlauer Berg in the street of Schönhauser still are played within Mexico and particularly at the countries capital.

Related mechanical music activities will be held at the exhibition. Last month a Lizana family member held a keynote about the tradition in Chile. Also the expo will be at the museum for a couple of years.

Aside the info and videos made for the exhibition, there is a variety of street organ instruments whom play automatically for a 10 cents coin. Various instruments with different kind of pipes and horns or even an orchestrion can be listened and enjoy at the museum. It is important to mention that the expo will be free to enter all through the year 2025. The Pankow museum is at Prenzlauer Allee 227, just across the street from the trolly by the same name.

Victor Maya / Berlin / 2023