The Museumdorf in Cloppenburg was founded in 1934 by Dr Heinrich Ottenjann (1886-1961), a teacher, wounded during military service in the First World War, who began collecting historical artefacts while employed at the secondary school in Cloppenburg in 1922. Some buildings were destroyed by an artillery bombardment toward the end of the Second World War on 13 April 1945, but were subsequently re-built. In 1961 the museum was taken over by the land government of Lower Saxony. Heinrich Ottenjann was succeeded as director of the museum by his son Helmut Ottenjann (1931-2010) who brought in many more buildings and developed research activities.
The original object of the museum was to display the peasant house types of the western part of Lower Saxony (the Oldenburger Munsterland), and to demonstrate traditional crafts. The museum extends over 20 ha and now has more than 50 buildings. It includes some large and magnificent farmhouses, such as the Quatmannshof from Elsten and the Haakenhof from Cappeln, mostly with human quarters at one end and animal accommodation at the other. They have tiled floors, cast-iron box-shaped stoves, alcove beds, wood stores, and sledges awaiting winter. The provide evidence that, in a wealthy peasant society, families spun their own yarn, brewed their own beer and made cheese and butter from the milk of their cows. Outbuildings include cattle barns, sheep stalls, elaborate pig sties, fruit stores, wagon shelters and a horse-powered threshing barn. Historically significant artefacts on display include a cast iron fire plate dated 1544.
The museum includes many buildings that might be regarded as industrial, including a bakehouse, a bleach green hut, an oil mill, a blue dye works and a woodworking shop with lathes, a band saw and boring machines, all worked by foot power. Cloppenburg is claimed to be Germany’s best mill museum, with several magnificent windmills, horse mills, dog mills and hand mills. Research in recent decades has concentrated on developments in agricultural technology between 1920 and 1960, and on the cultivation of marshlands in that period, to illustrate which its collection includes a steam-driven cable plough of 1929.