A gigantic skeleton of a Brachiosaurus, a Sauropod which lived in the Jurassic period some 150 million years ago, welcomes visitors in the main hall of the museum. Suddenly it springs to life through the lenses of an interactive telescope which throws the observer into a colourful 3d-animated primeval world.
Visitors can make use of several such telescopes in the room, along with electronic touch-screens, which offer detailed digital explanations of the objects displayed. The adventure for guests begins here and unfolds room after room as the visitors experience a journey back to the prehistoric age, the formation of our cosmos and the evolution of life on earth.
Giants of the past: the skeleton of Brachiosaurus brancai, a sauropod which could grow as tall as 30.5 meters and weight over 50 tons.
Part of the exhibition is dedicated to the Stone Age and the mysterious and controversial evolution of the human species, with numerous excavated skulls and bones on display.
People queue in front of the life size reconstructions of our ancestors, from Australopitecus to Homo habilis and the long chain which unites the hominids up to modern man. They take pictures and notes, pausing astonished for a moment in front of the blue-eyed gaze of Neanderthal man.
This classification of this extinct line, classed as a human sub-species by some researchers and as a separate one by others, is still under debate. The behaviour of the Neanderthals, their habits and possible interconnection with Homo sapiens are explored in extensive literature--a lot of which can be purchased in the well-stocked museum shop.
Hominid evolution: bust of Homo neanderthalensis
Heavily bombed during the second World War with the loss of much precious material, part of the Naturkunde Museum lay in ruins for 65 years.
The reconstruction began in 2008, and with that a new concept was developed: gone are the rows of dusty exhibits with pedantic explanations. The new policy of the museum's administration aspires to actively involve the public from the moment they arrive. The reconstructed east side of the edifice now allows the visitors to see how the scientists and researchers work, how the collections are assembled and analyzed. The museum director, Professor Reinhld Leinfelder, an experienced palaeontologist and geobiologist, wants the musuem's guests to feel like researchers themselves.
Left in ruins by the war, the newly-built east wing of the museum houses a huge collection of about a million objects in its specially climate-controlled rooms The presentation of the history of our cosmos and the formation of galaxies is among the museum's most impressive. A comfortable sofa in the center of the room allows several people at a time to lie flat on their backs and gaze upwards at the ceiling. Above their heads a huge rounded screen, where the short documentary is projected, comes slowly down, capturing the attention and resting for a moment just a few meters from the spectators' faces before rising up again.
Sequence 1: people waiting for the show to start.
Sequence 2: the screen starts moving down
Sequence 3: people are reflected on the screen at the end of the filmAnother of the museum's attractions is the original fossilized specimen of Archaeopteryx, evidently the earliest and most primitive bird known so far. As a link between dinosaurs and birds, it plays a special role in the debate over evolution.
The museum's Jubilee celebration programme for this year includes, besides gratis entry on given dates, many concerts, conferences as well as special initiatives for children.
For full details, visit: www.naturkundemuseum-berlin.de
Text and photos: Michele Carloni