* "Reason is probably not my strength"

"I am a privileged person"

Ulrich Halder, Founding Director of Naturama Aargau, retires

by Franziska Zulauf

Translation of an article first published in the 'Aargauer Zeitung' of 16 June 2007. Foto ,Aargauer Tagblatt‘, Alex Spichale.

„Whoever is lucky enough to plan and build up a museum?“ asks Ulrich Halder, not expecting an answer. Yet he himself got this opportunity – but also the work and responsibility linked to it. 10 years ago, he had been commissioned by the Canton Aargau to design a new, modern nature museum to replace the dusty and rather neglected old one. Four functions were to be considered: museum, education, nature conservation and sustainability. Ulrich Halder, a promoted biologist who is particularly interested in environmental education and the principle of 'sustainability', dived immediately and enthusiastically into work. He created a museum full of opportunities for sensory experiences, „not alone, but as a team“, as he emphasizes. It addresses all generations, conveys knowledge, and approaches topics from different angels and with different means. The museum, called Naturama Aargau, attracts around 45,000 visitors each year since its opening in 2002. But it’s not just the implementation of a modern museum concept which makes the Naturama so unique. It is the ‘overall package’, which includes a rich collection, one permanent and numerous special exhibitions, accompanied by a variety of events; environmental education with activities for classes of all levels; courses for practical nature conservation on the community level and regular analysis and reports in sustainability. „No other museum of the same size can offer so many services, says Naturama director Halder proudly. „All this was already proposed in the original concept.“

Ulrich Halder is an imaginative, creative realist, one who likes projects, doesn't care much for the monotonous dally round and is looking for new tasks as soon as one of his projects works smoothly. He is less guardian and keeper than a environmentally-conscious leader and doer. Halder grew up with two brothers in Aarau, in a family with broad cultural interests. „My father was historian, my mother a trained gardener. But she also loved music and literature and wrote the most beautiful letters.“ Obviously he has inherited the love for music and nature from her. And it was she who encouraged him to start playing the flute at the age of ten.. He received a „solid tuition“ with Eduard Bärfuss in Lenzburg. While at the gymnasium he studied at the Conservatory of Zurich with Jean Poulain, and took part in the first master class of Marcel Moyse in Boswil as the youngest participant. Later - while taking lessons with Peter Lukas Graf, his favourite flutist - he learned to play and appreciate the music of Bach. „It was not easy for me to decide whether I wanted to study music or biology,“ says Ulrich Halder looking back. „But I've made the right decision: biology as a profession and music as a serious hobby is an ideal combination.“ Halder has in fact remained true to the music and to the flute. At the age of 58, he discovered the charm of the historical traverso flute, studied at the Schola Cantorum in Basel, and since then has been playing all flutes from the early renaissance instrument to the modern Böhm system. He has also started to build up his own collection of actually about 50 historical instruments. His two passions have come together in the present exhibition „Wood and Sound“ of the Naturama. „The combination of natural sciences with craftsmanship and art is in total accordance to the philosophy of the house“, explains Halder. He contributed with a part of his own collection, including an original „walking stick flute“ from the 19th century, which he received from his team as a farewell present for retirement.

Ulrich Halder studied biology in Basel. At the university he met his later wife, Jacqueline, who also studied biology. The fact that he did not chose an easy topic for his thesis is not astonishing. In the jungles of Java, he studied the ecology and behaviour of the Banteng, a rare and endangered bovine species (wild cattle). He then worked for many years at the ‘Swiss League for the Protection of Nature’ (now Pro Natura), where he was commissioned to build up the first Alpine Study Centre in the historic ‘Villa Cassel’ on Riederalp in the Valais. „In the summer, we lived with our two boys in the magnificent Aletsch area, during winter in Basel with its many cultural activities,“ says Halder. In addition to his many tasks at the Swiss League, in 1981 he helped to set up the very first study course for nature conservation and environmental protection at the University of Basel. A few years later and together with Peter Lippuner from Swiss TV, Halder founded ‘Netz Natur’, a highly successful nature broadcasting program, which exits to this day (now under Andreas Moser). In 1992 Halder became director (CEO) of WWF Switzerland, the largest NGO for nature an environment in this country. „It was often a difficult task“, he says self-critically, „changing existing structures is less my strength than building up new ones. But I have learned a lot “. After four years, he started his own business, devoting himself to various environmental, educational and development projects – until the inquiry for the new museum came from Aarau …

The next project, which Ulrich Halder now has to tackle, is 'retirement' (which is perhaps not meant to be taken too literally). On the one hand, he was – just like 20 years ago – elected as a member of the parliament of Canton Basel-Landschaft for a term of office of 4 years. He thus replaces his wife Jacqueline, who, as a committed environmental politician, served in parliament for the last 16 years. On the other hand the 62-year-old senior wants to enjoy his free time now, for instance for sailing together with his wife, but most notably to devote himself to his flute passion, to study and expand his collection of instruments. „I am,“ he says, „a privileged person. I could almost always do what I like best.“