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image European Research News Centre > Research and Society> En route to the museum of the 21st century
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image image image Date published : 05/11/2001
  image En route to the museum
of the 21st century
 
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  Together with the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers in Paris and the Royal Science Museum in London, the Deutsches Museum is one of the 'dinosaurs' of European science and technology museums. But a very innovative dinosaur, featuring a science theatre, an observatory where children can stargaze through the night, an internet site for the very young, and special facilities for welcoming teachers and pupils.
   
     
   

On a September morning Lufthansa flight LH 4435 lands at Munich-Riem airport at 10.10 am precisely. The stream of passengers heads for tramway number 8. 'Unterföhring: would passengers please take the left doors,' announces a woman's voice. It is seven stops to the Isar Gate and a 45-minute ride from the airport to the city centre. That gives just enough time to take a look through the museum guide. The Deutsches Museum is described as being 'part of Munich, just like the Frauenkirche, the Hofbräuhaus brewery and the Olympic village'.

11.15 am. 'Isar Gate: would passengers please take the left door.' It is now just a few hundred yards to the Deutsches Museum. 'Do you know where the main entrance is?' asks Sieglinde Sander, who is from a Wiesbaden suburb, as she crosses the Ludwigsbrücke. Good question! Because the museum, situated on an island in the Isar, has 55000 square metres of exhibition space. Frau Sander first visited the museum with her husband 30 years ago, and is now returning with her 16-year-old daughter Evelyn. What does she expect to find at Europe's biggest science museum? 'I don't know,' she shrugs, 'I'll see.'

Please touch….

Aerospace, astronautics, power machinery, railways, the historical Zeiss planetarium… there is certainly plenty to see. Lars Madson, an electrical engineer, has come all the way from Copenhagen for what is his fourth visit to the museum. His sons Peter (14) and Sven (16) are with him. Every year 1.4 million visitors from 100 countries visit the Deutsches Museum - more than the total population of Munich.

'We want to welcome visitors with a totally new approach,' states Wolf Peter Fehlhammer, the museum director. The emphasis is on the 'pleasure' element, as its designer Oscar von Miller intended back in 1903 with the idea of a 'touching museum'. An engineer, he had already dazzled the public at the Crystal Palace with a waterfall driven by a remote electrical device. In a Europe gripped by the fever of industrial growth, Oscar - together with the physicist Wilhelm Röntgen, the engine designer Rudolf Diesel and the inventor of the refrigerator Carl von Linde - gave Germany a museum with a diversity of exhibits and clarity of explanation which successfully conveyed the way science and technology impact everyday life.

Some 100 years later, the old museum - home to such historical exhibits as the very first Benz automobile (1886) and first diesel engine - is adopting some new educational approaches.

The chemistry of life

The Pharmaceutics permanent exhibition inaugurated in 2000 is one example of the way this Munich museum is innovating. It invites visitors to take an inside look at the microcosm of a human body cell. 'This is great,' exclaims Seftab Inan (23), an assistant pharmacist, as she enters the dark tunnel leading to the cell interior. The cell is magnified 350 000 times to form an area measuring 11 metres by six where visitors can closely observe the cell structure and mechanisms. A cell forest shows the different cell types and the molecular changes triggered by illnesses such as Aids, tuberculosis and cancer. Under the motto You Are Chemistry, the exhibition also offers interactive multimedia systems to enable visitors to learn about the biochemical processes of the human body. 'Our aim is to focus on the human body,' stresses Wolf Peter Fehlhammer, a former lecturer in chemistry at Berlin University.

A different kind of class

Children - tomorrow's researchers - are more than welcome to the Deutsches Museum. Every year it welcomes 60 000 visitors aged under six! From 2002, they will have a specially designed Children's Museum.

'I see the museum as a generator of new ideas. I want visitors to leave with strong and memorable impressions which will remain with them for a long time,' explains Annette Noschka-Roos, an education expert at the Deutsches Museum. The natural curiosity and creativity of the child require a special approach. 'It would be disastrous to try and make the museum conform to some narrow model,' she continues. 'The museum must also appeal to the visitor's senses and emotions. Such as when the visitor discovers the impressive mining exhibit, or the "high tension" section where, safe inside a Faraday cage, the person can be bombarded with lightning without being struck.'

Theoretical learning does not dominate a visit to the Deutsches Museum. Things move, spark and splutter. Children can touch and make things, and even spend a night at the museum - a really exciting adventure for the under-12s. As a living space and after-school leisure facility, it should be able to attract growing numbers of visitors. Last year, for example, it presented an exhibition in co-operation with the European Patents Office, which experimented with physics through the theme of A Revolving World. By using their legs to activate a crane, rather like hamsters on a wheel, and themselves activating turnstiles to transform muscular power into motor power, the children certainly put all their energy into scientific discovery.

Such activities will be a permanent feature of the new Children's Museum. Today, already budding researchers are setting off with a four-page questionnaire for adventures such as 'a journey to the stars', 'around the sun' or 'a space trip'. The centre of the Earth, distant universes, the sonorous world of music, the mysteries of the atom, and the powers of the microscope are all explained to the visitor. And when, on clear nights, its young visitors climb the 84 metres of the East Tower or when they enter the planetarium dome, they are transformed into real little astronomers.


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Deutsches Museum von Meisterwerken der Naturwissenschaft und Technik

Deutsches Museum von Meisterwerken der Naturwissenschaft und Technik

Covering 55 000 square metres on
an island in the Isar and with its own observatory where children can play at astronomers, Munich's Deutsches Museum is a European site where
science and technology can be discovered through new and different approaches designed for different publics.

Museuminsel, 1 - D 80538 München www.deutsches-museum.de/ info@deutsches-museum.de

 

 
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When women guide women

"Sous la peau": exposition de technique d'imagerie médicale

Sylvia Hladky, engineer and former curator of the Deutsches Museum, who initiated weekly guided tours of the museum by women for women.

Women have often been the instigators of scientific discovery. Yet the vast majority of Nobel prize-winners have been men. 'Without the work of Lise Meitner, Otto Hahn would not have been able to explain the structure of the atom.' This is why Sylvia Hladky is committed to doing justice to the importance of women scientists throughout history. As the Deutsches Museum's first curator, she convinced her male colleagues to set up a bust of this famous Austrian in the museum's hall of honour. With the launch of the programme entitled Women Guiding Women 10 years ago, she gave the museum a special attraction. 'Women are not enemies of science and technology. Their approach is simply more pragmatic than that of men.' It is on the basis of this specific difference that Sylvia Hladky developed the educational aspect of her project. From October to May, Wednesday morning is women's morning at the Deutsches Museum with professional women guides showing women visitors around the exhibits for an hour and a half. Programme themes include Bits et Bytes (from the calculator to the computer), cooking and solar energy, the history of construction games and the creation of perfume.

 

 
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Schools at museum

Science on show: at the Pharmaceutics exhibition, visitors get an inside view of a giant cell to understand how it works.

Science on show: at the Pharmaceutics exhibition, visitors get an inside view of a giant cell to understand how it works.

The several thousand items exhibited at the Deutsches Museum represent an inexhaustible source of knowledge. 360 schools are permanent members of the institution. This means that classes can be held in the museum
at any time. The physics teacher takes his classes there to explain quantum physics while the biology teacher takes his older pupils literally to the heart of the human cell with a visit to the 350 000 times magnified model at the Pharmaceutics exhibition.

 

 
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Three questions for Wolf Peter Fehlhammer
General Director of the Munich Deutsches Museum

Wolf Peter Fehlhammer - General Director of the Munich Deutsches Museum

Wolf Peter Fehlhammer
General Director of the Munich Deutsches Museum

Museums used to have the reputation of being rather sterile places of 'conservation'. What do you do to make a museum a more lively place?

We are trying to introduce an emotional component. We want to reach the public through the senses too. We do this through various means, such as the science theatre and the art exhibitions. I do not believe too many demands should be made on visitors. This is why our current exhibitions do not try to show everything but to make a very rigorous selection of what will be shown. The phenomena are explained by carefully selected examples and rest areas are provided. The guided tours, which follow a narrative, are also very popular. Stories are also a way of reaching people.

But our concept is a very open one. Above all else we want to target new groups of visitors, such as women.

Do you feel that women are neglected?

A technology museum attracts predominantly male visitors. One sees many more fathers and grandfathers with their grandchildren than mothers with their daughters.

One of our aims is to make the museum rather more feminine. At the moment there is something of a male bastion about it. We are trying to lighten and soften the environment. One way is by hiring more women staff - until a few years ago the surveillance staff was exclusively male - or by allowing retired women to work as volunteer guides. And more women are also now holding the post of curator at the Deutsches Museum.

And what is the Deutsches Museum doing to attract children in particular?

We have simplified procedures and reduced the cost of admission for children. Schools can obtain a special reduced rate membership card. As a result, there are now 360 schools which are permanent members. Teachers can use the museum's facilities whenever they want, bring their class here and teach. We want to turn the visitors into users. The wealth and diversity of our collections means that there is something new to grab your interest on each visit, rather like at a library where you are free to read one book and then another, at leisure.
For the very youngest, for example, every weekend in December we are organising a programme of fairy tales, which stage the stories in the various museum rooms. This initiative has proved very successful among children and parents. At the moment we organise this kind of special event on an occasional basis, but from 2003 the Deutsches Museum will have its own Children's Museum. Young people will then be able to visit us whenever they want, and explore the various sections in the company of trained and attentive staff as they complete a special 'researcher's questionnaire' specially drawn up for them. We already have experience of this kind of action with children, who are certainly our favourite visitors. We never cease to be amazed by their enthusiasm and infinite patience, such as during holiday courses when they spend two or three days building a plane which can really fly.

 

 
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'Under the skin': exhibition of medical imaging techniques.

'Under the skin':
exhibition of medical imaging techniques.

 


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