German Museum of Technology

   - darkometer rating: 3 -
The Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin, Germany, is primarily a large exhibition of science and technology, but this also includes several aspects that firmly fall under the cover term 'dark tourism' (e.g. the role the German railway played in the Holocaust), so it's well worth popping in when in this city.  
More background info: Originally called “Museum für Verkehr und Technik” ('museum of traffic and technology') it was first opened at its present location in 1983, but incorporated predecessor collections of objects at other locations that date back to the early 20th century.
The focus used to be primarily on rail and road transport, and the location was the late 19th century industrial complex at Gleisdreieck, including the former mail and freight yard of the nearby Anhalter Station, which had become redundant since the post-WWII division of Germany and Berlin cut off the rail lines leading out of West Berlin.
In the late 1980s, two historic rail roundhouses were incorporated to display a collection of locomotives.
In 1996, the museum was renamed Deutsches Technikmuseum and its mission expanded to include aviation, shipping and sections on industries such as chemistry, printing and jewellery production. To fulfil this aim, a new annexe was constructed, which opened in 2003.
What there is to see: On the surface, this is a typical museum for kids of all ages to marvel at all sorts of machinery and technology, such as train engines, vintage cars, planes and what not. But there are also several items touching on some dark chapters of modern history and thus the museum also has relevance for dark tourism.
This begins in the foyer, even before you actually enter the museum exhibition proper. Hanging from the ceiling is a small Cessna 172 monoplane, the type that's been in production longer than any other, with well over 40,000 units produced (and more than a quarter of them still in operation), which is also more than of any other type … so it is very, very common. Except: this particular plane is unique in that it played a lead role in one of the most bizarre episodes of the Cold War era, on 28 May 1987, to be precise.
It was this very plane that 18-year-old West German amateur pilot Mathias Rust managed to fly all the way to Red Square in Moscow, right next to the Kremlin, the power centre of the mighty Soviet Union. Rust duped the Soviet air defence system that had been considered impenetrable. (In actual fact he was detected, but first mistaken for a Soviet training plane. When they discovered the plane was from the West, interceptor jets were called in but apparently couldn't “keep up” with the Cessna's slow speed … Confusion, incompetence, unclear chains of command may also all have played a part in the unlikely stunt working out.)
Rust was also lucky that some overhead tram power lines had been taken down for maintenance that day. And so he was able to land near Red Square without hurting anybody or himself (lucky again). The stunned bystanders rubbed their eyes in disbelief, and when they learned this teenager was from the West some even started asking for autographs. Rust claimed he wanted to build a symbolic bridge between East and West and promote peace.
The Soviet authorities weren't amused, however, and soon arrested Rust and confiscated the plane. Both were handed over to the Western authorities relatively quickly though. In the USSR the embarrassment led to changes in the military command that helped Gorbachev advance his reforms, so the episode did have some political impact after all, beyond the naïve ideas expressed by Rust. But he and the plane soon fell into obscurity. The plane spent a long time on display in Japan, but in 2008 it was tracked down and transferred to this museum.
Inside the museum proper, I first headed to the new annexe where the shipping and aviation sections are located. The former didn't provide much in the dark sense, but the latter did. On the one hand it was little details, such as a menu card from the ill-fated airship (Zeppelin) “Hindenburg” (see Lakehurst), or the well-stocked travelling bar Ernst Udet had aboard his plane.
Udet was a WW1 flying ace who was later involved in the Nazis' development of the Luftwaffe, but fell from grace in 1940 and committed suicide in November 1941 as he no longer saw any chance for the Third Reich to win WWII. At a time when Germany occupied much of Europe and was still pushing forward on the Eastern Front such foresight was rather rare! Yet Udet's suicide may also have had something to do with his alcoholism and drug abuse. The contents of the on-board bar on display here seem to support at least the former.
Of course the rest of the Nazi-era displays of planes also fall into the dark category, as does the display of part of a wreck of a British Lancaster bomber, a type that was extensively used in the Allied aerial bombings of German cities such as Hamburg. Footage of the fire storms in Hamburg during Operation Gomorrah (see Nikolaikirche) is played on a screen to illustrate this, and original objects on display in this section include e.g. a “Gasjäckchen”, a kind of full-body gas mask for infants, as well as various air-raid-shelter supplies (see also Anti-War Museum).
Incidentally, many, but not all of the larger text panels come with at least partial translations into English (which are largely OK). But the labels of individual exhibits are mostly in German only. So if you don't speak the language you will miss out on a few details. However, many objects are self-explanatory enough anyway.
A particularly dark element comes into play in the section about the “wonder weaponsV-1 and V-2, the production of which involved slave labour in one of the deadliest of the Nazi concentration camps, Mittelbau-Dora. How the “fathers” of the German rocket technology at Peenemünde later went on to work for the USA and NASA is also touched on.
The rest of the aviation section isn't quite so dark, but it also covers aspects of the GDR air force, a propaganda pamphlet by Stalin (about self-criticism – which might explain why it's such a slim volume), and coverage of the Berlin Airlift (cf. Tempelhof).
The latter is illustrated by one of the little parachutes used by some Allied pilots to drop bits of chocolate and such like to children on the ground – a practice that gave the planes the nickname “Rosinenbomber” (literally 'raisin bomber' but usually translated as 'candy bomber' in American English).
One of these is the largest object on display in the aviation section – or rather just outside it: namely on a roof terrace at the top level of the new building. It's a Douglas C-47 transport plane, one of the most common types used in the Berlin Airlift, and now the landmark icon of the German Technology Museum – you can see it from far away, making it easy to find the museum (see below).
More dark elements await in the museum's rail transport section. As you enter it you pass two large classical sculptures that once used to flank the big clock above the main entrance of the former Anhalter Station that was destroyed in WWII. One of the two female figures has a bullet hole right through the left eye!
Most of the railroad exhibits aren't of a dark nature, they're mainly locomotives and carriages from different eras, though this also includes a “colonial train” (from some plantation overseas), and a tank barrier from the GDR border (see Berlin Wall and/or Hötensleben) fashioned from old railway tracks.
The very darkest section of the whole museum is also here, however: it's about the role of the Third Reich's railway system in the deportation of Jews to the ghettos and death camps in the east during the Holocaust. This is illustrated by a dozen or so individual stories told on text-and-photo panels (unfortunately in German only, though), as well as by means of the display of an original (?) cattle carriage used in these deportations. You can even go inside …
In a corner is a vast scale model of the Anhalter Bahnhof and the associated mail and freight yards where today this museum is located. Normally, model train displays leave me rather cold, but I have to admit that the attention to detail and the realism of this model did impress me quite a bit. The era depicted must be just before the Nazis came to power. There are no swastikas anywhere, but the vehicles on the road look very 1920s/1930s.
There was one more Nazi-era-related dark element I spotted in this museum, namely in the chemistry and pharmaceutical section. Amongst the displays here are packets of Pervitin. That was the stimulant drug (based on methamphetamine, better known today as “crystal meth”) that the Nazis used on a massive scale to keep bomber pilots and tank drivers awake and alert for sometimes more than 72 hours during the so-called “Blitzkrieg” in France and the Battle of Britain.
All in all, the German Technology Museum exceeded my expectations. When I visited it (in June 2018), I at first didn't even think it would yield anything special for dark tourism, but I found myself standing corrected. Especially the deportation section in the railways part, and how it addressed this very dark chapter of the German railways' history head-on, was quite a surprise. Some of the exotic artefacts in the aviation section impressed too. So I can only recommend it, even if such technological museums are not normally your thing. Anybody into all things technical will enjoy this museum thoroughly anyway, of course.
Location: at Gleisdreieck on the southern bank of the Landwehr Canal in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, Germany.
Google maps locator: [52.4987, 13.3776]
Access and costs: not difficult to get to, reasonably priced for what you get.
Details: it's best to get to the museum by U-Bahn (metro), either by lines U1, U2 or U3 to Gleisdreieck or by lines U1, U3 or U7 to Möckernbrücke. From the former you take the northern exit and turn right and walk to the eastern end of Luckenwalder Straße, from where you can already see the big C-47 plane atop the museum's new building. From Möckernbrücke first cross the canal and then walk westwards along the canal's southern banks (called Tempelhofer Ufer), from where you can also already see the museum with its iconic plane at the top.
The entrance to the museum is not at the modern building, though, but at the old building a good hundred yards down Trebbiner Straße.
Opening times: Tuesday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday/Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed Mondays and on some public holidays.
Admission: 9 EUR (some concessions apply), under 18-year-olds get in free after 3 p.m.
Time required: depends. If you only want to pick out the things of particular dark-tourism relevance, as described above, then you can probably do that in little more than an hour, but if you want to see all the rest the museum has to offer you could easily end up being in here for more than half a day.
Combinations with other dark destinations: The nearest other specific dark-tourism attraction is the ruin of the Anhalter Station and the Berlin Story Bunker, about half a mile north-east from the museum, so that's easily walkable.
To the south of the museum you can still find the abandoned rail tracks that once led to the Anhalter Bahnhof, though parts of this large area are undergoing redevelopment. Still there is the set of historic steel railway bridges across Yorckstraße, which serve as a vague reminder of how busy this place used to be with rail traffic back in its heyday …
See also under Berlin in general.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: the museum itself also has plenty on display that isn't of a dark nature. There's too much to list it all here in detail, but amongst all the planes, trains and automobiles are also some more unusual parts worth a mention. For instance there is a whole section about sugar and its production – you don't see such exhibitions often (though cf. the relevant parts in the Slavery Museum Liverpool). Also unusual was the jewellery section or the historic “Pferdetreppe” ('horse stairs') by means of which horses could be brought upstairs in one of the original old buildings. I had never seen one of those before!
Finally, the section about computing is impressive in that it includes originals and reconstructions of some of the world's oldest computers, such as the mechanical Z1, and subsequent early electronic calculating machines by electronics/maths pioneer Konrad Zuse, including the Z3, the world's first working programmable electronic computer (but see also Bletchly Park, where the same is claimed for a different machine).  
There's also a full-on hands-on Science Centre “Spectrum” where you can do all sorts of practical & educational experiments in physics, optics, electricity, magnetism, mechanics and even music. These are mainly aimed at schoolkids. I didn't go into this section (also due to time limitations).
The area outside the museum is not the most touristy, but the U-Bahn (metro) provides easy access to the rest of Berlin, including Potsdamer Platz and the central district of Mitte.  
  • DTMB 01 - from a distanceDTMB 01 - from a distance
  • DTMB 02 - closer upDTMB 02 - closer up
  • DTMB 03 - Mathias Rust plane in the foyerDTMB 03 - Mathias Rust plane in the foyer
  • DTMB 04 - aviation sectionDTMB 04 - aviation section
  • DTMB 05 - reconnaissance pigeonDTMB 05 - reconnaissance pigeon
  • DTMB 06 - Ju-52 from the 1930sDTMB 06 - Ju-52 from the 1930s
  • DTMB 07 - menu card from the HindenburgDTMB 07 - menu card from the Hindenburg
  • DTMB 08 - flying board bar of Ernst UdetDTMB 08 - flying board bar of Ernst Udet
  • DTMB 09 - Nazi aviationDTMB 09 - Nazi aviation
  • DTMB 10 - medals awarded by GöringDTMB 10 - medals awarded by Göring
  • DTMB 11 - wreck parts of a Lancaster bomberDTMB 11 - wreck parts of a Lancaster bomber
  • DTMB 12 - and a one-person bunkerDTMB 12 - and a one-person bunker
  • DTMB 13 - GasjäckchenDTMB 13 - Gasjäckchen
  • DTMB 14 - wonder weaponsDTMB 14 - wonder weapons
  • DTMB 15 - V2 engineDTMB 15 - V2 engine
  • DTMB 16 - V2 engines from Mittelbau-DoraDTMB 16 - V2 engines from Mittelbau-Dora
  • DTMB 17 - GDR aviationDTMB 17 - GDR aviation
  • DTMB 18 - slim Stalin pamphlet about self-criticismDTMB 18 - slim Stalin pamphlet about self-criticism
  • DTMB 19 - Candy Bomber parachuteDTMB 19 - Candy Bomber parachute
  • DTMB 20 - CARE parcelDTMB 20 - CARE parcel
  • DTMB 21 - C-47 Candy BomberDTMB 21 - C-47 Candy Bomber
  • DTMB 22 - rail transport sectionDTMB 22 - rail transport section
  • DTMB 23 - sculpture from Anhalter StationDTMB 23 - sculpture from Anhalter Station
  • DTMB 24 - colonial trainDTMB 24 - colonial train
  • DTMB 25 - GDR border tank barrier made from railsDTMB 25 - GDR border tank barrier made from rails
  • DTMB 26 - locomotives galoreDTMB 26 - locomotives galore
  • DTMB 27 - Nazi engineDTMB 27 - Nazi engine
  • DTMB 28 - Third Reich railroad to deathDTMB 28 - Third Reich railroad to death
  • DTMB 29 - Holocaust deportations sectionDTMB 29 - Holocaust deportations section
  • DTMB 30 - inside a deportation carriageDTMB 30 - inside a deportation carriage
  • DTMB 31 - yellow starsDTMB 31 - yellow stars
  • DTMB 32 - Anhalter Station scale modelDTMB 32 - Anhalter Station scale model
  • DTMB 33 - mail and freight yards where the museum is todayDTMB 33 - mail and freight yards where the museum is today
  • DTMB 34 - chemistry and pharmaceutical sectionDTMB 34 - chemistry and pharmaceutical section
  • DTMB 35 - war drug PervitinDTMB 35 - war drug Pervitin
  • DTMB 36 - horse stairsDTMB 36 - horse stairs
  • DTMB 37 - Zuse Z-1 in the computer technology sectionDTMB 37 - Zuse Z-1 in the computer technology section
  • DTMB 38 - Zuse Z-3DTMB 38 - Zuse Z-3


©, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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