A museum for home computers feels like a technical reflection of my biography. I personally started with an Atari 800 XL and explored the bits and bytes. I had an Amiga 500, owned several PCs and felt to enjoy more or less the whole history of video gaming which happened in parallel. The HomeComputerMuseum in Helmond near Eindhoven, Netherlands, has been found in 2018 and is already quite a successful place in the small city. As the owner and driver of the museum, Bart van den Akker, is a legendary member of the Weird Al Yankovic community, I just had to visit that place. My visit took place in July 2020.
This museum won my “Hidden Gem” award in my Best Ones 2020
HomeComputerMuseum Helmond – Location & Admission
The museum is located right in the heart of Helmond. During my visit on a Saturday, I could stroll around the lovely Helmond market before the place was opening. From Helmond station (which is connected by Intercity trains to Venlo and Eindhoven)
Admission was 8.88 EUR for adults. You can stay in the museum the whole day for that fee. The museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesday. Wednesday, Thursday to Saturday, the HomeComputerMuseum Helmond is open from 11:00 to 18:00 hrs and Sunday 12:00-17:00.
HomeComputerMuseum – Business Concept
In fact, the HomeComputerMuseum is built on three pillars. The museum itself, which is really focusing on home computers (in contrast to huge calculation machines, which were not suitable for home use) is, of course, the most obvious one. Due to that special focus, the museum is focusing on machines sold 1975 and thereafter.
As the team needs to maintain all the historic machines, they have a huge expertise in computer repair / maintenance, which is the second pillar of financing. This also includes that they sell computers, which they have repaired / partially repaired but cannot use for the exhibition. Finally, the Helmond place is an integrative / inclusive project, as it gives people who suffer from mental / physical limitations a place to work (and they are really doing a good job there).
I of course concentrate myself on the touristic element of the place, i.e. the home computer museum itself. The website of the museum gives a full list of their computers in display (which would blow the volume of my posting).
HomeComputerMuseum Helmond – The Visit
The first thing which you recognize when you enter the museum: it is just huge! The place could easily be a medium size furniture shop – overall, there are around 200 to 300 machines in display. The rules are easy: all machines are plugged and running – if they are not running, you can try to start them – but there is likely a reason for them to be shut down. Only very few items are in display. You are entitled to touch and try out anything you like (according to Bart, the only exception to that is the staff). Practically all machines are documented with a short background story on displays. One side is in Dutch and the rear side is in English, so that you can learn a lot about the computers. There is sufficient seating (even though some of the seats are a bit improvised, e.g. former school furniture). There are lockers for ordinary sized bags / backpacks near the reception desk.
The first area, which is quite close to the reception / welcome desk, is featuring video game consoles and arcades. There is also an arcade machine which is emulating multiple consoles. The museum features a great selection of machines, including legends like the Saba Fairchild. I spent most of the time playing legendary Duck Hunt on the NES (which is quite a cool opportunity, as it requires a tube TV). You can try out 1980’s classics, but also comparably modern machines like the X-Box. Racing fans may go for a duel of Sega Rally on the video game arcade.
After that warming up with joypads, arcade controllers and Duck Hunt guns, you are about to dive into the beginning of home computers. As said, the focus of the museum is really on computers you used at home, so there are only a few exceptions of large machines, which played a role in Dutch computer history. It is hard to point out individual computers here, I loved to see an MITS Altair 8800 and the portable version of the Commodore C-64, the SX-64.
There are also masses of computers from the “golden era of home computing”. The museum is especially strong in Atari and – even more – in Commodore machines, where the collection feels to be quite complete. The Apple collection is also massive, including computers from the Apple IIe and III to the iMac G3,
All the machines you saw so far are up and running. So they fall under the “Sit Down and Try Out” policy definitely. However, there are also some amazing pieces of computer history, which are “just” on display or which cannot be brought to public access like handheld consoles. You should definitely have a look towards the toilets of the museum – the storages, which are next to it are loaded with gems of the home computer history, which cannot be displayed at all for various reasons.
HomeComputerMuseum Helmond – Services
As you may spent some hours in the museum – at least if you are a nerd like me – it is good to know that the museum also operates a small bar which is serving drinks and even some limited bites.
HomeComputerMuseum Helmond – My View
The HomeComputerMuseum Helmond is just amazing. First of all, it is huge – especially if you bear in mind it is privately driven. The collection itself is mind-blowing – apart from the very early machines, which have been sold before I was born, it really feels like a technical biography of my life. The fact that you can touch the machines, that you can explore them and play with them (or code) just makes it perfect. So good, so interactive – if you are into computer technology, you should add Helmond on your travel bucket list… But arrive early and allow for a lot of time, you might sit down everywhere and enjoy your memories as much as I did. Of course, it is a Flyctory.com Top Pick!
The owner of the HomeComputerMuseum is a friend of mine. I know Bart since a long time as the webmaster of the international Weird Al Yankovic Forum. This did not influence my judgement on the exhibition.
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