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Germany's Technical Museum, Berlin


Given Germany's almost-cliche reputation for industry and engineering, especially from the 19th century on, it should be no surprise that the German Technical Museum in Berlin is huge, sprawling, and too much to cover in one article.


My first glimpse of the DeutscheTechnikMuseum, though, was of distinctively American technology, a C47 cargo plane that took part in the 1948 Berlin Airlift, and now hangs above a terrace on the museum's facade. Inside, an open lobby and cafe space link the various buildings devoted to all sorts of industry and to huge displays of trains, planes and automobiles. We'll cover the trains and cars in later articles.


One of the first, and most extensive exhibits covers the printing industry, one whose history has many German links, from Gutenberg in the 15th century to Othmar Mergenthaler's typesetting machines of the 19th century.


The printing area also has working studios where students and others get some hands-on experience (and a chance to print some cheeky posters)


Throughout the exhibit, and through most of the museum, there are displays and explanations of how industries and processes changed over the years and why. Nearly all the narrative content is in both English and German.


Off the more urban track, there's a model of a weaver's cottage from early in the Industrial Revolution, with cutaways showing the different parts of the process, and explaining why it was long a 'cottage industry' because urban living was too expensive for the weavers, many of whom were also part of farm families.


Printed material is one form of communication, but the 19th century gave us more, including the earliest radio and telephone systems, replacing such methods as beacons and semaphore flags. Below, a 1920s collection of ads for radios and radio accessories, and some radios that ring a bell for some of us who are older.


But radio has served far bigger purposes than entertainment; it has always been a powerful tool for education and propaganda—and I won't try to separate those out here! Among the exhibits was a timeline of the different German radio services that developed locally, became regional and then were placed under Nazi control in the 1930s.


After the war radio was an important tool in the propaganda campaigns of the Cold War, and Germany was a prime location. The equipment above was for a number of years the transmitter station for RIAS (Radio in the American Sector), a U.S. government station that competed with Soviet-backed stations in East Berlin.


The museum carefully takes a sidestep on the question of who invented the telephone, pointing out that several different inventors were working at the same time, while Bell was able to get the first patent. The earliest German telephone was demonstrated some 30 years earlier; it transmitted sound, but the sounds couldn't be understood!

And then, of course, television...


Moving on to the museum's next major building, the emphasis turns to sea, with both exhibits of models of numbers of types of ships, each linked to an aspect of their technology, and focused on questions such as how ships can sail into the wind, and the theories behind ship design.


There are also larger exhibits, with actual ships that are open to visitors to climb on and inspect, as well as some reconstructions that explain different principles of ship use and design.


Kids and parents at a workshop on sailors' knots...


Hiking up another floor, above the ships and boats, we arrive at the airport. Or, at least, at the planes. In this area, there was more emphasis on history than on technology and technical explanation.


Several exhibits covered warplanes of the first and second World Wars, and discussed how the myth of the fighter pilot, the World War I 'knights of the air' developed and why it appealed to a public in a way that the grueling and endless ground battles and trench warfare did not.


This is not a child's plane model set; it is a training set that was issued to German civil defense units during World War II to help them learn to identify the various models of Allied planes attacking Germany. Below that, an area showing the first German jet fighter, the ME-262, and copies of the V-1 and V-2 rockets used against the UK.


Leaning away from the military side, there's a fully-restored Junkers JU-52, a type known widely as Iron Annie. First produced in 1931, it became one of the best-known passenger and cargo transports, and was used extensively by the German military as well. Like the Douglas and Boeing transports of the same era, it had a long lifespan; the last one was built in Spain in 1952, and large numbers were still in service up to the 1980s.


Also on hand, a plane built for Liesel Bach, a German aerobatic pilot who was the first woman to fly over Mount Everest.


But, not wanting to leave everything up in the air, we'll finish with a portion of the bicycle display...



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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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