Leiden (dpa) - A long dark robe and a leather mask with a long beak. This is what protective clothing looked like in the 17th century during the plague epidemic. Today, caregivers wear white suits, mouth masks and wide plexiglass glasses to protect them from corona.

The science museum Boerhaave in the Dutch city of Leiden shows in the exhibition “Infected!” the history of epidemics from the plague to corona. The Dutch king Willem-Alexander opened the show on Thursday afternoon.

The museum wants to show how much epidemics can shatter life, said museum director Amito Haarhuis of the German Press Agency. "But we also wanted to warn of the unknown disease, Virus X, which could come over us at any time."

Irony of history: Shortly before the planned opening, the museum had to be closed due to the corona pandemic. With a four month delay the exhibition can now open and has been expanded to include the current chapter Corona. It presents videos, photos and objects from the past months.

The museum shows parallels such as protective clothing. The long beaks of the plague masks were filled with strong-smelling herbs in the Middle Ages to keep the pathogens away. Already at that time, distance, protective clothing and isolation of the sick were used. "Social distancing is very old," said Haarhuis.

The medieval plague caused up to 200 million deaths, every third European died of it. However, many pandemics are not as long ago as the Spanish flu at the beginning of the 20th century or AIDS in the 20th century. One of the most gory diseases was smallpox, which cost millions of lives over centuries. Smallpox has only been considered eradicated since the 1980s. Malaria also existed in Europe a good hundred years ago.

The highlights of the exhibition include the lifelike wax models, which are over a hundred years old, manufactured in the Pathoplastic Institute in Dresden. They are masks of the faces and bodies of real patients. A model, for example, shows a dying man with a hideous, thick plague bump on his neck.

© dpa-infocom, dpa: 200716-99-817357 / 3