Speyer: Museum celebrates wizardry of technology
November 9, 2004
In modern Teutonic culture — from German Porsches to Swedish furniture design — it’s technology, not spirituality, that’s exalted.
So it’s fitting that the best view of Speyer’s 1,000-year-old Romanesque cathedral is from the viewing deck of a 747 display — 100 feet off the ground at Speyer Technik Museum. The museum is a temple to all things mechanical — to the glory of man’s ingenuity at making iron and steel bend to his will and do his bidding.
A trip to this entertaining, all-encompassing museum raises one fundamental question: Where in the heck did all of this stuff come from? That is to say, where does one get a lightly used Lufthansa 747-230? And how does one mount said 747 high atop a huge steel display tower like a plastic model in a child’s bedroom?
I went to the museum administration office in search of someone to tell me about its displays, but alas, no one could, in English at any rate. A Frau Gaus could only tell me that the collection came “from everywhere,” part purchase, part loans to the 13-year-old museum. The museum has the same owner as its larger, older and highly regarded cousin, the Auto & Technik Museum in Sinsheim.
For such a relatively young museum, it’s quite a collection. I calculated there are 10,000 tons of trains in 20 displays including hulking American diesels from the 1950s and the trains the Russians built to try to top them.
So, what else would you like to see? Race cars? Got ’em. Antique cars? Yep, including Rolls-Royces and a 1939 Horch, which could do 140 mph. Oh, and don’t forget Harry Gant’s 1981 Chevy NASCAR racer, owned by Burt Reynolds and director Hal Needham. Lots of fire trucks beckon, including a shiny 1958 Seagrave with a 12-cylinder engine — the pride of the Liberty Fire Co. from Sinking Springs, Pa. Add to that everything from old calliopes to a new F-15 fighter, and I can’t think of any place short of the Smithsonian Institution displaying such a diverse inventory.
A great museum gives close- up looks at historical items most of us have only read about. For example, the Technik Museum has about a dozen aircraft, including the 747 that you can enter.
Visitors can see firsthand how DC-3 pilots navigated through a front windscreen only about 8 inches high. How in the world did they see to land?
Just down from the DC-3, a museum crew was assembling what they said was an old French seaplane. And just down from them were three Russian military helicopters including a Mi-24 Hind with all its armaments in place.
And so on through 20 acres of outside displays and a couple of acres under roof, including the main building with multiple IMAX theaters, as well as a separate Wilemsbau museum with costumes, furnishings and weapons from many historical periods.
The Technik Museum really soars on the strength of its military displays, and humans have always been at their most technically creative when they were pondering better ways to annihilate one another. One must-see is the U-9 submarine. Though built in 1966, the technology is shockingly primitive — all gnarly hand-turned valves and greasy gears.
There are some shortcomings for Americans. Only a few displays are in English, and some have sort of weird touches, such as the mannequins in World War II German army uniforms standing next to 1950-era American fire trucks. Huh?
But for adults, teens and older children, the museum is a chance to see the convergence of art and industry, and just how far, how quickly and how imaginatively civilization has raced forward from the crude machines that ushered in the industrial revolution only 170 years ago.
Younger children will have plenty to entertain themselves, including a small water ride, a choice of IMAX movies and other fun diversions. Oh, and they can take a long, twisty slide from the 747 down back to ground level!
You can spend the day at the Technik Museum, and save Speyer’s cathedral and well-preserved town rivaling nearby Heidelberg for another trip.
On the QT ...
DIRECTIONS: The most direct way to get to Speyer from the Ramstein/ Kaiserslautern area is to take Autobahn 6 toward Mannheim. At the Frankenthaler Kreuz, take Autobahn 61 toward Ludwigshafen and exit at Speyer. Or, take Autobahn 6 to Mannheim, then follow it south to Autobahn 67 and get off at the Speyer exit. From the Frankfurt area, simply take Autobahn 67 south to the Speyer exit.
TIMES: The Technik Museum is open 9 a.m. to 6 a.m. daily. The IMAX theaters keep longer hours, with movies starting after 6 p.m.
COST: For just the Technik Museum and Wilhelmsbau, the price is 11 euros for adults and 9 euros for children under 14. An all-inclusive ticket for the museum and IMAX is 15.50 for adults and 11 euros for children. Tickets for the IMAX only are 7 euros for adults, 5.50 for children.
FOOD: The museum has a cafeteria-style restaurant in the main building, with indoor or outdoor seating. Entrees run between 5 and 8 euros, a small salad costs 2.60 euros, a large salad 4.85 euros, and soft drinks 2.30 euros. There’s a large restaurant on the grounds of the museum called the Pfalzer Weindorf that keeps late hours during high tourist season. Finally, Speyer’s city center is less than a mile away, with every sort of restaurant and café.
INFORMATION: The museum has a Web site: www.museumspeyer.de. Click on the British flag to read the information in English.
— Terry Boyd