I could, of course, visit BMW Welt, or to the alternative-sounding Technik-Salon unter offenem Himmel (Technology salon under the open sky) and I should definitely drop by the Technical University of Munich as well. But in between all the appointments with important and interesting people from the fields of technology and innovation in and around Munich, I free up a few hours to visit – very conventionally – the Deutsches Museum.
For the editor-in-chief of a new website on technology and innovation, the ‘Auf zu neuen Welten‘ posters are extremely tempting, Off to new worlds indeed. However, I only find out at the end of the half-hour long queue that the posters aren’t actually announcing a new exhibition, but refer instead to a sweeping renovation that will last until 2025. A bit of a letdown.
There is still plenty to see. On robotics and space travel, atomic engineering, telecommunications and tunnel construction, printing technology and modern aviation: there is almost no topic imaginable in which a German has not once pioneered or at least made a significant breakthrough. As a resident of a generally not-so-modest neighboring country (The Netherlands), you can only admire that. But no matter how amazing and extensive the exhibition spaces are in what is still Germany’s largest technological museum, I walk through them at a brisk pace.
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I spend more time in the underground section, where you can roam through as many as eight kinds of mines. Then I end up spending most of my time in the huge Kraftmaschinen hall on the first floor. From machines driven by muscle power, to the steam engine and the diesel engine. It is in this section that the relentless drive for innovation becomes most palpable to me. Machines were there to make the work easier for people (and animals) who often had to live in abysmal conditions.
Is it my imagination or do I see in the visitors a real love for technology, as they regularly touch the machines and seem to lovingly caress them. Is that allowed? Yes, that is allowed. A love that in the Netherlands is only reluctantly acknowledged much less indulged. It is also the place where you come to understand how difficult it is to distance yourself from old technologies because you realize that the prosperity of the country was built on them. Now that everyone is talking about ‘Industry 4.0‘, it is not such a bad thing to occasionally stop and think about where we have come from. After all, who was that great German thinker again who said, “Those who do not know the past will not understand the present and cannot shape the future“?
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