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The Technik Museum Speyer – size does matter

When I passed by the Technik Museum Sinsheim earlier this year, it was clear to me that at some point, I will pay a visit to the sister museum in Speyer.  The Sinsheim site was an evident candidate with the Concorde and TU-144 parking next to each other in a take-off angle by one of Germany’s busiest roads.  The Speyer site is a bit more hidden, but lies comfortably close, I managed to access it with a slight detour (north of Mannheim, close to the Hockenheim race track) en route from the Cité de l’ Automobile in Mulhouse to the Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart.

The origins of the Museum are explained in the Sinsheim article, visitors might have noticed the crowded halls, loaded with incredible machinery, from supercars through dragsters, tanks, helicopters and supersonic passenger planes. If there is anything, the Museum could have used that was space. And this is what you will find in Speyer, as the new site is about size.  Space Shuttle, Jumbo Jet, Antonov or a modern age diesel-electric Submarine, one can find dozens of king size vehicles, and there is also enough room for decoration with a concept. 

Nevertheless, there  are things, that do not need decoration. The open space in the middle of the Museum hosts a number of king size items, starting with a U-Boat U9, a German Navy submarine, put into service on 11 April 1967. The diesel-electric “Class 205” U-Boat weighs 466 tonnes, is 46m long, 5m wide and visitors can also walk through from the torpedo room to the back of the ship.

In addition, there are a number of large vessels in the open space  area, such as the John T. Essberger, a German Maritime Search and Rescue ship or the Houseboat of the Kelly Family (it’s a band, and they were big in Germany some time ago), donated by Sean o’Kelley. The houseboat was built in 1923, is 34 m long, 6.30 m wide, has a height of 6 m and weighs 185 tons. In case you are a fan, the original tour bus of the Kelly Family can also be seen in the Main Hall.

In 1999 the Museum set up an Antonov An-22, the largest propeller-driven aircraft built in series with a wingspan of 64 meters and a length of 58 meters.

Since 2003, a Boeing 747 “Jumbo Jet” provides appropriate company. It was also mounted on a gigantic steel scaffold erected in the middle of the open space, similarly as they did with the Concorde and the TU-144 in Sinsheim. Visitors without any agoraphobic tendencies can also step out to the wing, and there is a giant slide to leave the plane really fast.

For me, the highlight of the museum was the space exhibition with a Russian Buran orbiter, that was built originally to challenge the American space shuttle programme. The Buran prototype OK-GLI shown in the museum was built in 1984 and was used for testing glidepath and landing after reentry into the atmosphere. The OK-GLI completed 25 atmospheric flights between 1984 and 1989 and significantly contributed to the successful orbital flight of a Buran shuttle in 1988.

The transport of the Russian shuttle in early 2008, which led from Bahrain over the open sea to Rotterdam and from there on a pontoon up the Rhine to Speyer, was commemorated by a small scale diorama under the real shuttle.

To adequately present the shuttle to the visitors, with a length of 85 meters, a width of 75 meters and a height of up to 22 meters, and houses cars, fighter jets and a helicopter.

In this hangar, there are approximately 600 unique exhibits on an area of over 5,000 square meters, documenting the history of space flight from its beginnings in the early 1960’s to the current international space station. In addition to the original space shuttle Buran, there is also the training module of the space laboratory Spacelab, and a 1:1 model of the research module Columbus on display. 

Valuable space suits, original documents, models, and many other space exhibits, such as an original landing capsule of the Soyuz TM-19 mission, and a high-quality replica of the Vostok 1 spacecraft, complete this unique exhibition.

In 2013 the space flight exhibition was expanded with a Moon thematic, and now presents mock-ups of the Apollo 11 lunar module Eagle, the moon car Lunar Roving Vehicle, and also an invaluable 3.4 billion-year-old moonstone.   

There are a great many decorative items from photos to a Lego Star Wars exhibition and a wall of scaled-down models with a cinematic thematic.  They are a refreshing change after all the hard science, even if these toys constitute just a small aspect of taking care of details. 

The space hall also contains a number of futuristic vehicles of “terran” origin, along with the stylish presentation of a set of 60’s-80’s cars, like the quirky NSU RO80 (with a Wankel -engine), the Opel GT or a few Porsches with pastel colours.

Moving away towards more conventional vehicles, the main hall holds a number of exciting cars  from vintage oldtimers of the early days of motorization to fairly recent models from the late 20th century, surrounded by airplanes and locomotives but also by an extraordinary collection of specialized vehicles.

In addition to the evergreen classic cars, like the Gullwing SL and the E Type, there are a few unusual and/or rare cars, as well as a few vintage popular cars. For more recent cars, its worth to pass by Sinheim. 

Technik Museum Speyer holds one of the largest collections of historical fire engines in Europe, reaching from the beginnings of fire extinguishers up to the present time. Special rarities are the king-size vehicles from the USA, particularly by Ahrens-Fox, which had been designed for high-rise buildings.

The Museum also shows a great number of articles of equipment of firefighters from all over the world. In addition to the emergency services, the main hall houses a number of large artefacts, from steamroller to jet planes.

I left Sinsheim without any particular expectations for Speyer. I did like the Sinsheim site, but Speyer outperformed it in many ways. It also proved to be a refreshing change between the French and the German car museums. The Technical Museum can hold its own, and at the same time, it was able to distinguish itself also from every other museum including its sister site.  While I barely managed to run through the site in two hours, I did not spend time anywhere, like walking to the tip of the 747’s wing, or even entering the planes and boats, not to mention enjoying a movie in the IMAX cinema. Ideally, the two sites can be combined and can offer a full day programme easily, but don’t make the mistake to underestimate the Speyer Museum, because size does matter… 



A non-partisan yet active car-maniac.