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Technology and Culture 41.3 (2000) 525-529
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Museums of Technology in Germany
Stefan Zeilinger and Michael Hascher
To the historian of technology, technical museums serve several purposes: they are historical sources made material, and their exhibitions confront a wide audience with historical questions, helping to popularize the history of technology and to recruit new scholars. In this article we will offer a necessarily too brief introduction to German technical museums, beginning with institutions that take a broad approach and then turning to more specialized museums of industry, transportation, and other aspects of technology.
The Deutsches Technikmuseum in Berlin, founded in 1982, considers itself the successor to more than one hundred separate collections. Situated in the former Anhalter railway station, its main focus is transportation, specifically railway history, although other technologies (such as textiles, printing, communications) are also represented. With 14,000 square meters of exhibition space, the museum continues to expand in order to give more room to other topics. Its archives contain some important company papers--Allgemeine Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG), Borsig, and others--and its library includes among other holdings the entire collection of the Verein Deutscher Ingenieure (Society of German Engineers), making the museum an important research center of national, perhaps global, scope.
In contrast, the Landesmuseum für Technik und Arbeit in Mannheim, which opened in 1990, focuses more on regional themes. The building's architecture reflects the exhibition concept: a top-floor to ground-floor journey through time from the late-eighteenth-century political context of industrialization to twentieth-century microchips. The museum's research institute and library are particularly interesting to the historian, and live demonstrations of operating machines raise the exhibitions above the level of mere displays of artifacts.
A number of regional institutions are worth noting. The Museum für Astronomie und Technikgeschichte in Kassel, location of the first modern observatory in the world, has an impressive collection of astronomical instruments. [End Page 525] In the east, the Technisches Landesmuseum of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in Schwerin mainly focuses on the history of transportation and energy production, particularly shipbuilding and automobile manufacturing. The Technisches Museum in Dresden mainly covers entertainment, office, and calculation technologies, reflecting the importance of those industries in Saxony. Apart from the Technisches Museum, a university institute and a whole range of technical museums underline Dresden's importance for the historian of technology. The Mathematisch-physikalische Salon (fig. 1), situated in the Zwinger palace, makes a unique contribution with its magnificent collection of scientific instruments, dating back to the art chamber of 1560 and including a collection of chronometers spanning three centuries.
The Museum der Arbeit in Hamburg, opened in 1997, offers excellent exhibits on technology and labor; historians of technology will be particularly interested in material on the history of the factory and differences between women's and men's working conditions. Several museums of industry were founded at the moment of industry's demise in some traditional industrial regions. The Westfälisches Industriemuseum (1979) and the Rheinisches Industriemuseum (1984) consist of a range of sites such as [End Page 526] mines, factories, even a workers' housing estate (fig. 2). This decentralized concept has also been adopted in Saxony, whose industrial heritage based on coal, ores, and textiles is the subject of several exhibits in various locations.
The Westfälisches Freilichtmuseum in Hagen focuses on craftsmanship in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Deutsches Bergbau-Museum in Bochum takes a global and encyclopedic approach to the history of mining; its impressive library and important archives make the museum a prominent location for research in the history of this field. An outstanding example of a material historical resource is the Völklinger Hütte. This ironworks was operational from the height of the steel industry up until 1986; it has been completely preserved, and is now a UNESCO world cultural heritage site.
Transportation museums are among the most popular museums of technology. The Dresden Verkehrsmuseum is one of the few institutions offering exhibits on the whole range of transportation technologies, from bicycles to airplanes, a reflection of Saxony...