Deutsches Museum: the history of technology

The magnificant Deutsches Museum!

Tuesday was a rainy day in Munich, so we took in the Deutsches Museum, an awesome monument to technology and the role of Germany in creating the world we live in now. When we arrived the students went into the first room and I went to use the toilet. I didn’t see any of them again until our arranged meeting time three and a half hours later. None of us were hiding, the museum is that immense!

Visiting the museum really helped me put into context the age we are living in, and how it marks the transition of one kind of society to another. We are leaving the machine age and entering the digital age!

I’ve never been to a museum with so many parts and sometimes full airplanes and cars on display, including jet engines, models of different types of planes, smaller plans parked or hanging from a ceiling. They also had a full display of wooden ships, both models and a full size fishing ship.

Yet more interesting to me is getting a sense of how technology has changed lives. There was an entire display on the printing press, including a replica of Gutenberg’s original, how it was improved on over the years, different styles, linotype machines, up to modern digital methods. There was an exhibit on film and camera, with hundreds of cameras up to modern digital cameras there. Kitchen equipment, electric generators, motors of all sorts, musical instruments, metallurgy, mining, tunnel building, toys, nano and bio technology, oil and gas, energy in general, space flight, glass blowing, genetic research, industrial machinery, tools, optics, atomic physics, pharmaceuticals, ceramics, astronomy, telecommunications, agricultural technology, radios…and more (even Zeppelins!)

I thought I was perhaps pushing it when I told the students to meet back in three and a half hours – I’ve seen students “do” the Uffizi in Florence in 20 minutes. Yet this was so massive you couldn’t do it properly spending the whole day.

Each of these eras had its own cultural and political structure. From the cottage textile weavers to the first factories, both politics and every day life changed dramatically as technology improved. I imagined the huge factories of the mechanical era. Or accountants working with mechanical calculators, so large and complex. The era of machines!

There was a model of the DC Douglas plane that formed the first fleet of Pan Am jets, which could go from New York to Frankfurt in 13 hours.

Looking at the first cars — some really attractive models were produced by auto companies in the 1920s — innovative, often strange, showing that there was not yet a standard design for cars.

A 1925 aluminum car was innovative!

Now we’re in the digital era, even the electronic equipment (record players, radios, etc.) was obviously from a different time. In fact, one can put a date on it. For most (but not all) the exhibits the 1980s marked the start of a shift to technology driven by our vastly expanding computer and information technology.

We’re at the start of a change that will have as dramatic an impact on our lives as the rise of industrial era had. It will change politics, culture and life in ways we can only imagine (and much is outside what we now are likely to imagine!)

And that’s probably a good thing. The era of the machine needed vast quantities of power to reshape the world. With oil running low and concerns about global warming, how we get the energy to run whatever world will emerge will have to be different. But seeing the range of innovations of the past, created often as solutions to problems of their times, I end up optimistic that the era just beginning will be better than the one just ending.

  1. #1 by DoF@theinfill on May 17, 2012 - 17:50

    I love museums particularly of industry and machinery – they’re fascinating. I like digital technology too but I do wonder how interesting any museums containing it without an admix or greater variety of subject will prove to be. 😉 What do you reckon?

    • #2 by zoetic * epics on May 18, 2012 - 14:07

      Fantastic post and photos! My favourite is the top one – it’s like I’m standing there! … I love museums too! I just wrote a blog post about my museum experiences in Switzerland! If you love “parts” you will want to read this … Hope you enjoy my post and hopefully have a chance to visit one of them! Here it is:

  2. #3 by Mikalee Byerman on May 17, 2012 - 18:05

    Such cool pix — can you even imagine the technology items of today that will adorn the halls of museums of the future? It’s amazing to think that the technology we consider “revolutionary” today will be outdated in five seconds (in the expanse of time, that is…).

  3. #4 by Katie Raspberry on May 17, 2012 - 20:21

    That’s super cool! I love when museums display old fashioned furniture and tools


  4. #5 by triptracker on May 17, 2012 - 22:45

    I love museums, especially ones where you can follow the change over a period of time. I love being able to see, touch and appreciate where we came from

  5. #6 by meika on May 17, 2012 - 22:46

    It’s even more fun to work in them like I do at MONA. And despite technology changing, they will maintain that fun of things.

  6. #7 by corinthrose on May 18, 2012 - 01:28

    Looks like I’m going to have to make a visit to Munich the next time I’m in Germany. Congratulations for being freshly pressed!

  7. #8 by lijiujiu on May 18, 2012 - 09:06

    Amazing pics! So cool!
    I like museum very much, but I have never gone to Deutsches Museum before, thanks for sharing…

  8. #9 by shirin on May 18, 2012 - 10:41

    It’s lovely to read about a museum doing exactly what it should do, capture the visitor and put things into perspective. Interesting to think of ourselves at the start of the change, not only for culture but also for politics.

  9. #10 by AsheX on May 18, 2012 - 11:18

    You should check out the museums in Washington DC..

  10. #11 by thisislemonade on May 18, 2012 - 12:14

    Very thought provoking. I never really thought that I am living in a time of “revolution”. Of course we learned about the great industrial revolution in school, and one can’t help but notice how the world is constantly changing with all the technological “advances” around us. But you are right in that, just as with the industrial revolution, even the political landscape is changing as a result. Some of the changes are pivotal.
    I wonder what the museum will make of our time when it looks back in the future…very interesting subject!

  11. #12 by Sarah D. on May 18, 2012 - 12:45

    Neat. I’d love to see this museum. I live in a small town that in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th produced a lot of mechanical technology. We have a small museum here of local industry and it’s fascinating. As much as the Deutches Museum sounds fabulous, I’ve come to appreciate small, focused museums a lot. Not so overwhelming!

  12. #13 by abichica on May 18, 2012 - 14:44

    awesome pictures!! it looks like a cool museum!! 😀

  13. #14 by amelie88 on May 18, 2012 - 15:48

    I actually just visited this very museum last month when I was in Munich. It is the largest science and technology museum in the world! However maybe I wasn’t in the mood or I was just tired… I had only an hour and a half til closing time anyway… but I didn’t really enjoy it (except for the photography exhibit). Maybe I’ll have to go back when I’m in a better mood!

  14. #15 by Donna M. Monnig on May 18, 2012 - 16:09

    Interesting topic, I didn’t know this museum existed, but now I want to see it for myself someday! Nice pictures and good commentary, thanks for sharing!
    God Bless,

  15. #16 by Urban Diva on May 18, 2012 - 17:46

    I visited this museum in February 2011 and really liked it. I’m a plane lover and was fascinated by their collection, especially the Boeing 707. It was a great afternoon! Glad to see you enjoyed it as well. :o)

  16. #17 by pursuingmydream on May 24, 2012 - 06:03

    I love museum! 🙂

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