Deutsches Museum in Munich – less than the sum of it’s parts

Don’t get me wrong – the biggest ‘Technology’ and ‘Science’ Museum in Germany is well worth visiting – it’s just that the parts are so large – it’s hard to focus.

The Deutsches Museum is all about ‘size matters’. Unlike most museums that are content with models, or electronic aids – this Museum wants the real thing. So there’s a life-size section of a Lufthansa Passenger jet showing the typical 2 – 4 – 2 seating- with the luggage containers below. There’s a real U-boat – the last of its kind, saved from destruction in 1919 by the founder of the museum, and sliced open so visitors can see the insides – from stem to stern. There are full-sized water wheels, running of course – even a full-sized sail boat used for fishing off the North Atlantic sea. At one point, you walk into the staterooms and then onto the deck of a cross Atlantic steamer – circa 1950.

It would be impossible to list all the stuff crammed into the museum – let alone see it all. But I did have one favorite part – and it’s wasn’t even on the must see sections!

To me the highlight of the museum was the Mining section. Why – because they devoted basically 1/2 the basement to full-sized, walk thru, mines. Dark, dripping with water, dirt or wooden floored as appropriate – these ‘mines’ felt like the real thing. And since I’ve been in the real thing several times – I feel justified in saying that.

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To trace the changes in mining technology over the past 200 years – they have created mines worked by hand, complete with miners using lamps to claw coal from the earth. Exit that mine – and you are in a salt mine – with life-sized miners using pick-axes to cut salt ‘cubes’ from the walls. Walk a bit further, and you are in more mechanized times – horse-drawn sleds, tracks running beneath your feet, electric lights. Just a bit further – and you are face to face with gigantic mining machines with bits larger than a human. This is a truly impressive bit of display work – it would be hard to leave without a feeling of pity for anyone who would have to earn their living under the earth!

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Another truly fascinating section dealt with nano-technologies. This section used the very latest in museum technologies – you passed your hand over an object – and in German and English the object was explained in quite significant detail. Neat technology – but not the best at conveying information. Because you had to pick what to learn about – it was easy to by-pass important things, and get intrigued by something less critical. Basically a confusing exhibit – but very cool technology.

Another exhibit that couldn’t help but admire – but have to admit that the designers went so far – and then dropped the ball – was in the Pharmaceutical section. There you see a picture of a naked woman (this is Europe – no clothing, no problems), are forced to focus on her eye, from there to a piece of skin above her eye, and from there to a skin cell. You then turn right – and actually enter the cell – blown up 10000 times to make room for probably 30 visitors at once. So far – so cool – but then the designers ran out of ideas. Once in the cell – it’s back to basic explanation – mostly in German. Oh well. I did like that one section of floor looked like cell wall – I think the entire floor should have been made like that – it would have been far more impressive.

There’s also a model train layout – huge of course – HO scale – that is ‘animated’ 3 times a day. When animated, the cameras on the front of the trains are turned on – and you see the scene from the perspective of the engineer. A very neat effect.

Under the – scare the wits out of people heading – they have a huge exhibit on static electricity – which ends with a house bursting into flames from a lightning strike. Very noisy – but not something I haven’t seen before.

The very highly reviewed Physics section has every mechanical advantage demonstration tool I’ve ever seen – very hands on – very fun – but limited explanations. I was left thinking that kids probably press the buttons – pull the levers – and roll the balls – and then walk out – none the wiser.

Bottom line – Do go. It’s way cool to see the full-sized planes, boats, power tools, printing presses, telephone exchanges, even an old IBM 360 – the computer I learned to program on in 1966. Be sure to visit the Mining section – you’ll have to hike down stairs quite a bit – and then gradually work your way up thru the various exhibits – but it’s truly amazing. Don’t be surprised at the lack of English – some sections are well labeled, others have nary a word of English. And Don’t expect an audio guide. You will be disappointed. But I’d rate the Mining section alone a must see in Munich. I’ve never seen anything better anywhere – and that includes really coal and silver mines!

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