Museum für Naturkunde – Berlin's museum of natural history
When I was a little boy my favourite place in the city was an old, a bit outdated museum in the heart of the city: The Museum für Naturkunde!
As many boys at that age I loved everything connected with dinosaurs and when it comes to this topic we have one of the greatest collections around the world.
Like most of Berlin's important buildings the museum is located in the eastern part of the city, just a bit north of the heart of the city. The easiest way to get there is to take the U6 north to the station that has been renamed 'Naturkundemuseum' just a couple of years ago so people will find the museum more easily.
The building itself dates from the late 19th century and was heavily damaged during a bomb attack in February 1945 and during the last days of the war. There are multiple scars of war still visible everywhere on the facade.
The building itself was renovated in recent years, some rooms are actually still closed until the middle of the year. As part of the process the whole exhibition was updated and expanded to reflect the latest state of knowlegde and museum presentation.
In right now 11 rooms the museum gives an overview of the world, the cosmos and the evolution of life on planet Earth. In rooms full of interactive elements the visitor learns how the world we see around us came into being and is still transformed daily by the forces surrounding us.
The core attraction though is the large collection of dinosaurs:
Right in the entrance hall the visitor is greeted by the largest mounted dinosaur skeleton of the world: A Giraffatitan brancai whose head is hanging more than 12m above the ground!
This and and many more skeletons were found during between 1909 and 1913 during the 'Tendaguru – expedition' in eastern Africa. This excavation still holds the record for the most succesful dig, around 250 tons of fossiliced bones were brought back to Germany. While the most spectacular findings are exhibited, many more parts are kept in the archives awaiting further research.
Way smaller, but scientifically actually more important is the fossil of an Archaeopteryx, the “Urvogel” (ancient or first bird). It is a transitional fossil, linking dinosaurs and modern-day birds and was therefore a key element in proving evolution in the late 19th century! Only a dozen skeletons have been found so far and while the Berlin specimen was only the second skeleton, found in 1874, it still remains the most complete and most beautiful of them all.
It is kept behind a very thick glass window and can actually only be removed for research by opening a safety door behind it.
As if this wasn't already enough to justify a visit, the museum just recently got another great attraction: Tristan Otto, the only Tyrannosaurus Rex you will find in all of Europe!
The skeleton was found in 2012 in Montana and is actually in private hands, but loaned to Berlin for a couple of years, enabling research on one of the best-kept T-Rex skeletons found so far.
Especially the skull which still contains 98% of the original bones was in the focus of research and is exhibited seperately from the rest of the skeleton.
Beyond the dinosaurs the museum of course has more to offer: From rooms showing the diversity of life on the planet and explaining principles of evolution observable all around the globe to rooms explaining the solar system, the geological forces of the planet and a taxidermy collection with animals from the Berlin Zoo like Knut. Knut was born in the Zoo, but rejected by its mother. The zoo-keepers raised him themselves, feeding him milk from the bottle. The little cub became worldwide famous when shown first to the public, gaining the nickname “cute Knut” by the international press. Knut unfortunately didn't get very old, dying at the age of 4 from an infection of the brain.
The museum is still used for research and has large archives that are not open to the public. Thanks to the renovation of the building parts can at least be seen in the museum in the most surprising room of the whole building: The wet collection.
Comprising of around 1 million specimen preserved in alcohol, the wet collection has found a new home in the rebuild eastern wing of the museum. The room is cooled down and researchers have to wear special shoes to make sure that no sparks can be created that might ignite all the alcohol the animals are kept in.
This room is best explored with the excellent audioguide available at the entrance in many languages included in the entrance fee. Be sure to get it at after entering the building, but be warned that this great audioguide and its provided information might extend your visit to longer periods than you had originally planned!
I personally actually stayed in the museum for 6 hours and only left because it was closing, feeling that I could have learned even more if I had had the time.
All in all the museum is a great visit, especially, but not only, with children and should not be left out in your visit to Berlin!