{Germany} Museum für Naturkunde Berlin

August 24, 2011


Yesterday I visited my first Berlin museum! The Museum für Naturkunde (MfN) – Natural History Museum – was only 379 metres away from the accommodation we’re temporarily staying at while waiting for the lease on our new flat to start, so what better place to start. In fact, we attempted to visit the day before, until we remembered that a lot of museums here in Germany are closed on Mondays. However, they had a sign out front listing all the museums that you can visit in Berlin on Mondays instead. Nice service!

But I digress. Back to the MfN. I did not have any expectations. I picked it because it was the closest, and because natural history museums generally are pretty cool places. What can I say? Wow! I only saw a fraction of it (since I had the boy with me, who is still very grumpy about the whole being uprooted business, I kept it short), but the fraction that I saw was pretty amazing. If you can’t go wrong with natural history museums, you most certainly can’t go wrong with dinosaurs. And they had plenty of them.

The dinosaur hall is the showpiece of this museum, with seven full dinosaur skeletons, including a Brachiosaurus – the largest mounted dinosaur skeleton in the world (they even have the Guinness World Record certificate on show to prove it). In addition, you can peek through some ‘Jurascopes’ which bring the dinosaurs to life in a virtual environment, adding first the vital organs, then muscle, then skin, and finally animating them in their natural habitat. The original of the famous Berlin Archaeopteryx specimen is also on display in it’s only little niche, though there is no animation. Other exhibits in the dinosaur hall include individual dinosaur bones and teeth, fossils of other contemporary life forms, and a ‘dino dig’ display about the expedition to Tendaguru in East Africa 1909-1913, this being the area and habitat that the exhibition focuses on. The display comes complete with original glass plate photographs, as well as some expedition equipment and a contemporary newspaper article.

The interpretation in the dinosaur hall covers everything from ‘What is a dinosaur?’ and the anatomy of dinosaurs, to their diet, habitat and hunting habits, giving a rounded picture of these great creatures. All the interpretation panels are in both German and English, and a neat little extra was that you could touch some of the glossary terms and an AV screen played a short relevant clip to explain or exemplify, e.g. an animated family tree if you touched the name of a dinosaur, or an animated digram to show how the skull design or ‘tripod stance’ worked. There was also a free audio guide which you could take round the museum with you, though I’ll have to come back and check that out another day without the boy.

To finish our inaugural Berlin museum visit, we took a quick look round the temporary special exhibition ‘Federflug: 150 Jahre Urvogel’ (‘Feathered Flight: 150 Years of Archaeopteryx). The displays covered the story of its discovery, fossils, anatomy, feathers, flight and biodiversity, drawing not only on Archaeopteryx itself but also other specimens, and included photographs, audio, videos of flight in action, fossils, taxidermy and skeleton exhibits. In the middle of the exhibition was an installation of feathers from many different kinds of birds, which looked pretty impressive. But although one lady, in rather good humour, said that my son’s screeching had helped her imagine what Archaeopteryx might have sounded like, I decided it was best to save the rest of the museum for another time before other visitors responded in less friendly terms.

In conclusion, it was an excellent choice to introduce us to Berlin’s museum world, and we’ll definitely be back. My only small criticism is, that although there is a ‘barrier free’ entrance for wheelchairs and prams, this involves ringing/knocking/rattling/all of the above on a ‘not sure if this is really the right way in’ looking kind of door until a guard lets you in, and then making your way via the lift and through the galleries to the ticket desk without getting lost. Luckily I’m a very confident museum visitor and spoke the language, but I could see this potentially being a bit off-putting for someone perhaps less confident. But the important thing is that the building is at least accessible (and has baby changing facilities), and although slightly confusing everyone was very friendly. As a bonus, ICOM members get free entry so I can come and go as I please at no extra cost and take it all in little by little. Though at only 6 Euro entry price (concessions available) a day out here would be definitely worth your while. Having read the description of the other exhibits, I can’t wait to come back and see ‘Preparation Techniques’, which shows how different kinds of specimens are prepped for exhibitions, and the ‘Wet Collections’, with “276 000 vials containing approximately one million animals…stored in 80 tonnes of ethanol” (I think my choices definitely reflect the museum geek in me^^). So, until the next time!


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