02 November 2012

Ze GERMAN Technology Museum is GERMAN

Yesterday, I was with the kids at the German Technology Museum in Berlin-Kreuzberg. On the whole, the exhibitions were well made, but I was irked at the strangely Germanophile emphasis of the things on display.

There were many examples of teutocentric stuff:

  • In the aviation section, Hannover's Karl Jatho and Berlin's Otto Lilienthal are lavishly represented, in particular Lilienthal's gliders are all over the place, but the Wright Brothers get barely a mention (and a small scale model of their flyer) in spite of their critical role in the development of controlled aviation.
  • In rocketry, no mention of Goddard, but plenty about the Nazi V2 and Saturn rocket engine used in the Apollo moon program (which of course was also from von Braun and a descendant of the V2's engine).
  • In computing, you could easily get the impression Konrad Zuse singlehandedly invented computing - but barely a mention of Charles Babbage, nothing about Turing or ENIAC that I saw, no Apple I or II or Mac or IBM or UNIX, but Zuse machines everywhere.

Yet the museum is mostly bilingual and had lots of international visitors, and had an extensive display about the Berlin Airlift, emphasizing the positive role Americans played. Indeed the museum is topped by a "raisin bomber", one of the aircraft used by the US military to fly goods into West Berlin during the Soviet blockade and still fondly remembered here.

I'm used to American museums being very America-centric, but to have a German museum behave that way – where Germans in my experience are usually much more circumspect about being nationalist and are more prickly about not focusing too much on one country – is a little jarring.

One personal note was that the lobby has a Cessna plane hanging there. I immediately guessed that it was a very certain plane, and was right – the very plane that Mathias Rust flew and landed in Moscow in 1987, embarrassing the Soviet military. I remember it well, because at the time I had to write an essay in high school about what I would do with a million dollars. I found the topic dull beyond belief and didn't take it too seriously. Whereas the other kids wrote things like they'd buy an awesome car or donate it to the poor or whatever, I said I'd buy 100,000 pairs of Levi's at bulk discount and hire Rust to fly them into the USSR for sale at a huge markup, then use the proceeds to buy more Levi's and sell them in the USSR, and so on until I had gained economic control over the Soviet Union and would bring it to its knees. Then I'd seize control of the Soviet Union and use nuclear blackmail to take over the world. (I got an A. And probably ended up on some FBI watch list.)

On the whole I'd highly recommend the museum, in spite of its flawed emphasis on German achievements to the expense of other, historically more important figures. Kudos for the interactivity of the exhibits, but a big minus for historical context and scope.