Friday, February 1, 2008

22 September: Technik Museum Sinsheim

After much goading, I finally agreed to accompany John to the Auto und Technik Museum in Sinsheim, about an hour’s drive from Stuttgart. We had passed by the museum many times on our way to and from points north, and I had to admit that it looked pretty cool. The museum’s most visible claims to fame are an original 1976 Air France Concorde and its Russian counterpart, a Tupolev TU-144, both of which are mounted quite spectacularly on the roof of the museum and are visible for miles around. Sinsheim is the only location in the world where these two supersonic passenger jets are displayed side-by-side. The museum also boasts the largest collection of Formula 1 race cars in Europe and an enormous assortment of vintage cars, military vehicles and associated paraphernalia.

It was a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon and we arrived at the museum around midday, bought our tickets (we could have purchased a combined ticket that included an IMAX movie, but we declined), and headed straight for the Concorde, which was installed at the museum in 2003. We first ascended a staircase to the roof of the museum, then waited in a short line to go through a turnstile that controls the number of people on board the plane at one time. We passed a sign for Place de la Concorde on our way up the spiral staircase and entered the plane through one of the rear passenger doors. Both the Concorde and the Tupolev are mounted at take-off angles so you must literally walk uphill as you move through the plane to the cockpit. The first thing I noticed on board the Concorde was that is was really musty and stuffy inside the passenger compartment, even though they had fans running to encourage air circulation. About half of the seats have been removed so that visitors can move back and forth, and the rest are encased in thick plexiglass to protect the original gray upholstery. It was hard to imagine that the rather smallish seats passed for the ultimate in airline luxury in the 1980s! We had to wait forever in the cramped corridor to view the cockpit, which was a mass of dials and switches that actually looked quite modern.

Next we toured the Tupolev, which beat out the Concorde to become the first passenger plane in the world to attain a speed of Mach 2 (2,150 km/hr) in 1970. (In fact, the first Tupolev flew in 1968 while the first Concorde did not roll out until the following year; claims that the Russians committed industrial espionage were never substantiated.) This particular specimen made a fantastic 4000-kilometer journey by land and sea from Moscow to Sinsheim in celebration of the museum’s 20th anniversary in 2001. The Tupolev was even mustier, mounted at an even more rakish angle, and boasted bright orange upholstered seats and a rather dilapidated-looking cockpit.

The museum has several more planes mounted on its roof, some of which have elaborate slides leading out of them that seem to be quite popular with the younger crowd of visitors. (Unfortunately you have to lug a heavy burlap sack around with you if you want to use the slides, so we didn’t partake in the fun.) We climbed into a couple more planes, each of which smelled worse than the last. I could literally feel my sinus passages rebelling until finally I said, “Enough, let’s go see the cars!”

The main building of the museum is an enormous warehouse and houses a mind-boggling collection of cars and automotive memorabilia. The Formula 1 collection was interesting, but somewhat lacking in the way of interpretive information. Other specimens of note in the transportation collection include the world’s longest bicycle and motorcycle (seating 10 and 4 passengers, respectively), nearly 300 vintage motorbikes, a group of gas-guzzling American “Dream Machines” from the 60s and 70s, a U-Boat engine, 20 full-size railway engines, a variety of tractors and towing vehicles, and two of Hitler’s armored Mercedes. In addition, the museum has rather incongruous collections of vintage clothing and musical organs on display. Trying to navigate our way through the mammoth space was difficult, as there was no system of organization to guide your way. It reminded me of a crazed antique dealer or the garage of an obsessive-compulsive collector who just doesn't know when to stop, only in this case the collection consists of planes, trains, and automobiles. Another cavernous room is devoted entirely to the military exhibition which, with life-size dioramas, planes and helicopters hanging from the ceiling, and every other surface layered with photos, flags, uniforms, guns, and smaller collections of war memorabilia, presents a veritable kaleidoscope of sights and sounds to absorb. We found the whole place just a tad bit overwhelming.

Even John was getting a little weary at this point so we went outside to check out the museum’s collection of tanks and nuclear missles. This is what had originally attracted John here, since the tanks are lined up in clear view of the Autobahn, which passes only a few meters from the museum grounds. The tank collection includes German, Russian, and American models, and we couldn’t help but wonder how the museum managed to acquire all of the specimens, particularly those from WWII.

We had only been at the museum for a couple of hours but we had just about reached our breaking point, so we called it a day. John says he was a bit disappointed by the whole place. He’s been to the museum’s partner organization, the Technik Museum in Speyer, where they have a Lufthansa Boeing 747 and a 1967 German U-Boat on display. Even though that museum is much smaller, he says the overall exhibition was better. So that’s our take on the famed German Technik Museums – take it or leave it. At least John will stop bugging me now.

1 comment:

scott davidson said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee, http://EN.WahooArt.com/A55A04/w.nsf/OPRA/BRUE-8LT475.
The image can be seen at wahooart.com who can supply you with a canvas print of it.