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February 19, 2013

Bayernhof isn't just another museum

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Ring the doorbell at the Bayernhof Museum in Pittsburgh and you’ll be greeted by a jolly-sounding tarantella. It’s just one of many surprises, including musical ones that greet visitors to this former mansion of Charles B. Brown, a unique individual whose home is a reflection of his off-center personality.

Situated atop a high hill in Pittsburgh overlooking the Allegheny River, Bayernhof gets its name from Brown’s affection for all things German, an affinity that goes back to his great-grandfather, John Loresch, a native of Bavaria (Bayern)..

After amassing a sizable fortune manufacturing gas lights, Brown started construction of his 19,000 square-foot house in 1976, a project that wasn’t completed until six years later. It was filled with what curator Tony Marsico said are things worth one dollar sitting next to things worth $10,000 and more.

While waiting for Marsico’s guided tour to begin, I sat in a room where I spotted a hefty collection of German beer steins, Germanic-looking plates, beer wagons, even a deer head crowned with obligatory antlers.

"Mr. Brown tried to make the house resemble a German manor," said Marsico, obviously allowing for exceptions like the massive copper-colored espresso maker salvaged from an area restaurant that sits on a corner table.

Most visitors would be delighted to get a tour of the mansion’s many rooms, including its three kitchens (Brown loved to cook and entertain friends) and master bedroom with its own private kitchen, sauna, tanning room, large Jacuzzi and 14-head shower. But the tours also include unexpected oddities like a rooftop observatory and the "Cave," one of three hidden passageways complete with a fake bat and stalactites and stalagmites that winds from the lower level to something I’d rather not reveal to save the up close astonishment for the tour takers.

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