Station: [8] Compounding Bench

If you ever read the Asterix comics, you probably know from the druid Getafix how to concoct a magic potion. He used to make a strength-enhancing brew for Asterix and Obelix from a secret recipe. Standing over a large cauldron, he’d toss mistletoe and other ingredients into boiling water and stir and stir. 

Of course, pharmacists don’t cook up their medicines in a cauldron. They weigh, dissolve, mix or grind basic ingredients and prepare the medicines according to individual prescriptions – a process known as compounding. This compounding bench, where medicines were individually prepared, used to be part of the dispensary. It was only separated from the customer area by a work table or shelf. Visual contact was important to be able to chat with the waiting customers. These days, prescription medication has to be compounded in a separate room under conditions of strict hygiene.

On the worktop, we’ve laid out all the utensils required to make ointments, pills, tisanes or suppositories. You can see a beam balance, precision scales, a mortar, a spatula and a three roll mill for preparing ointments.

One historical device from the pharmacy is the infusion apparatus on the left of the worktop. It was used to prepare tisanes. Herbs and water were weighed out, placed inside a porcelain infuser and boiled. The tisane was then strained, filled into bottles and handed to customers.

On the shelf opposite, various mortars and grinding bowls are on display along with the matching pestles. The mortars made of metal have a smooth interior and were used to crush raw materials by pounding them. Grinding bowls have a rough interior. Here, the raw materials are rubbed to a pulp, or triturated. Every pharmacy has a selection of mortars and grinding bowls of various sizes. Many have elaborate designs. Later, you’ll have the chance to admire a particularly beautiful mortar in the materials store next door.

In Germany, pharmacists are popularly called 'Pillendreher' – ‘pill rollers’. To the right of the beam balance, you can see an actual pill roller. If you’d like to know how to make pills with it, you can find out from a short film showing daily life in a 1960s chemist’s. The film is showing on the small monitor on the shelf on your left.

Now – give your inner investigator free rein! Go ahead and open the cupboards and drawers! When you’re done, please join us in the office, right next door.

All depictions: © Trüpschuch