Chapter 42: I Wish
from the 1976 album “Songs from the Key of Life” by Stevie Wonder
Even though we sometimes would not get a thing
We were happy with the joy the day would bring
The Deutsches Museum in Munich collects over 28,000 items in a large complex that spans two islands and 55,000 square metres. Let’s take a look at some of their exhibits.
WRIGHT BROTHERS STANDARD TYPE A AIRCRAFT
Aeronautics Hall, 1/F Atrium
Being the world’s largest science museum, the Deutsches Museum has been fortunate enough to purchase many important artefacts that testify the colourful advances of science and technology around the world. Many of them are housed in spacious, brightly-lit halls, where their full glory may continue to dazzle pilgrims to this shrine of progress as they learn about Germany’s contributions to the world. One cannot help but marvel, for example, at the Wright Brothers’ Type A Aircraft, a stellar piece of engineering which the Brothers themselves admitted was inspired by German engineer Otto Lilienthal’s theoretical publications on flight. The Type A aircraft was specifically designed for mass production in Europe, and it opened the doors for flight experiments on this side of the Atlantic. Today, the last surviving example of this aircraft is suspended high above the Museum’s Old Aeronautics Hall, greeting the visitor as they step through the doorway. It’s probably the most famous and striking exhibit in the entire museum, and no visit is complete without a pause underneath the airplane, to contemplate its majesty as it washes over you.
THE AVERAGE VISITOR
Around the museum
A dynamic and ever-changing entity, more than 1.5 million people step through the doors of the Deutsches Museum every year. In this gigantic complex that towers its way past 7 floors, one can spot a wide variety of people heading through the Museum’s halls and gazing in wonder at the breadth and depth of our exhibits. Here in the Marine Navigation Hall, for instance, is an elderly couple on their first visit to Munich, the husband stopping to wait for his wife, cheerfully going “come on, Ilse, we’ve got so much to see”. The wife grumbles under her breath as she inches forward slowly, bent slightly due to the inhuman onslaught of the years. Around the corner in the Machinery Workshop, a middle-aged volunteer is leading a bunch of children: wooden giants turn slowly to a soundtrack of trickling water, and the children listen with googly, innocent eyes, though a couple of slightly taller boys have broken away and are tentatively approaching a small wooden mill, their hands outstretched, wondering just how much fun they can have with these thousand-year-old exhibits before they’re discovered. And here climbing the stairs from the oceanography section, we see a man and a woman, in their early twenties, next to each other. He has black hair that’s just starting to grow out into a fringe, the beginnings of a beard; her brown hair glints in the afternoon light, in and around her rusty T-shirt. They walk close to each other, just within touching distance of each other, chatting genially, passing their eyes over wooden panelling and portholes looking out into the ocean. To passers-by, they might just have met at the entrance and decided to spend the day together, exploring.
THE COMMUNICATION PIPELINE
Physics Exhibit, 1/F West Wing
“Well hello there. You hearing me over there Mo?”
“Mo, come on! We’re here, might as well make the best of it.”
“Urgh. Why are we doing this?”
“Well, it was your idea to come to the Museum.”
“I was expecting, like, a pleasant walk and talk, not you running like an express train through all the exhibits. Can’t we like slow down or something?”
“Come on, how often do you get a chance to play with these.”
“Many, these are exciting times.”
“Oh alright then… might as well. Hello, Thomas dear, how are you?”
“Jesus, what’s with the tone?”
“You never specified what role I was playing.”
“Can’t we just, like, talk like normal friends?”
“Absolutely not, dear, if you’re gonna spend your time running around this museum like a child I’m treating you like one.”
“Oh come on, what’s wrong with running around this place? Look at it: there’s a spinny thing for astronauts right behind you. Where’ve you seen that before?”
“Nothing wrong with those. Just wish you’d slow down to let me look at them a little more.”
“I take it slow! I read all the stuff that’s on the signs and everything.”
“That was just the first couple of ones you did, the rest were like drive-bys.”
“Anyway, no shame in all that. But can we please slow down in galleries? I need me more time to think about things.”
“Yes of course… whenever you’re ready.”
On every example of exhibit #34,592
Eyes are important in our perception of the world, so it is no surprise that they are equally important to any person who steps through the narrow glass entrance of the museum. Visitors to the museum are encouraged to look around the premises, and to gauge with their powers of sight the grandiosity and variety of the museum’s exhibits. There are multiple ways of seeing the museum, but the only requirement for visitors is to be adventurous. Perhaps there lies another little-known gallery, full of treasures and wonder, just behind that bland white door.
But perhaps the visitor’s eyes might be attracted to some other things besides the exhibits. Returning to the (theoretical) couple described in previous entries, we follow them as they make their way around the Music Hall, the man excitedly jumping everywhere, the woman a step behind, muttering to herself. The man’s eyes are wide in amazement, flitting from one item to the next, from mellotron to player piano to the classical instruments in the corner, though occasionally they stray from the thing he’s handling to sneak glances at the woman. Every so often — maybe once a minute — his eyes land on her, and he finds himself thinking about whether her enigmatic smile means anything, and if she notices his furtive glances. She moves her head, and he looks away, thinking that he shouldn’t be so obvious. The woman lets him think this: she’s looking at him just as frequently, and thinking of what she’ll say when the time comes.
THE ALTAMIRA CAVE REPLICA
2/F, next to the Glassworks
“I’ve never seen all of these cave paintings before. They look amazing, don’t you think? Think of what prehistoric people were able to do even without theories of art and everything.”
“They ARE just replicas, Thomas…”
“Yeah but have you ever seen anything like it before? It’s just amazing what they could have done. What are you looking at?”
“I’m just looking at that bull down on the right. That red one there.”
“What do you — oh yes, that one. He looks like he’s about to jump off the wall.”
“God those eyes. You’d think that he was about to gore you or something.”
“Right? It’s just astonishing what they knew back in time. You ever think that they knew more than us?”
“They’re like charging across the rock. And gosh, that water dripping off the walls… almost real…”
“Er, I’m pretty sure that’s just a leaking aircon, Mo…”
“Let me just — ow.”
“Sorry, it’s dark in here, can’t see that rock in the way… oh wow. That really is cool. How are they doing this? Well spotted!”
“You know, I get why you’d be interested by all these things. They have that sort of charm within them, don’t they?”
“Not just charm. Childhood memories. Scenes of being carried along by my parents to Kensington and seeing all those huge machines. Discovering the world. God, Layla and I used to do that a lot too, going to museums. She said I looked cutest when I came across something I loved.”
“You still are.”
“I was complimenting you.”
“Oh. Right. Haha.”
-1/F, West Wing
“Thomas, I’m not really sure about going in here… it looks very creepy. And it’s, you know. Dark.”
“Relax, it’s not like they don’t have dozens of cameras around the place to make you safe. Plus, it’s a museum! What could go wrong, for Christ’s sake?”
This 500-metre long exhibit is a showcase of Germany’s mining technology and how it has progressed throughout the ages. Various aspects of mining — the different yields, the different machines and even the different facets of life within the mines — are showcased within this recreation of a 19th-century mine, dug into the foundations of the Museum Island. Visitors will experience the cramped conditions of the mine as they burrow up and down through the tunnels, learning about the realities and dangers of —
“Oh my gosh, Mo, have you seen this? A chapel carved into the rock! They really went all out on this.”
“Uh huh. That’s nice, isn’t it. That organ music really is… something.”
As visitors descend into the exhibit, the loud hubbub of the world gradually fades away, replaced by the sounds of the visitor’s own footsteps as they follow the steps down into a world of rock. The signs below are dusty and faded — the exhibit was built in the 60s and awaits renovation — and the tunnels are narrow. But this being a reconstruction, the visitor is perfectly safe, safe from whatever may be lurking in the shadows…
“Wait, what? What did you just read out?”
“Yeah, what the hell? Maybe it’s just something they write to get you in the mood.”
The exhibit maintains a loose chronological approach and after the initial zones of bare rock, signs of human habitation begin to reveal themselves, as in the first example of a mine —
“Good Lord, those mannequins look almost real. Did they have to paint them that scarily? That one with the pickaxe looks like he’ll come alive any moment.”
Salt mines were brightly lit and had the advantage of reflecting sources of light, but this was unique. Most mines, such as those for coal and iron, were badly lit and, in the dark, it was very difficult for miners to see each other. And some other things…
“Wait… Thomas, did you hear that?”
“I’m sure it’s just us in here.”
“No, it sounds like… did you see anybody behind us when we were going down the steps?”
“No, not really. It’s just us in here.”
As the visitor ascends the stairs the place changes: it both broadens and dims, to allow for the strange dilemma of space and darkness to show through…
“WHO THE FU — oh my gosh, I thought there was someone behind that minecart…”
“There isn’t, is there?”
“It moved. It moved just now…”
The dangers of mining were plentiful and accidents sadly frequent. Occasionally, miners would say they had been attacked by strange animals or other miners who bore a grudge against them. The visitor is assured that there are no such problems within the mine recreated deep underneath the ground here. Until you hear the footsteps.
“JESUS CHRIST what were those footsteps? Oh God, Thomas. Walk. Walk quickly. There’s somebody behind us.”
“Are you… are you sure?”
“He’s getting closer…”
There is a short shaft that you travel down as you explore the modern, wood-panelled mine. It is a cramped tunnel, only wide enough for one person to descend it at a time. There is no turning back or hidey-hole for any visitor who is having second thoughts, who hears ghostly footsteps draw nearer and nearer. As you turn the corner, you spot a gleam of light. Electricity. You barrel towards it
“Oh shit, you’re right Mo there’s somebody stalking us… go, Morgan, go go go go go…”
and you emerge into the safe and brightly lit environs of a modern industrial workshop, scared and panting, only to discover that it is nothing but another visitor.
“See, Mo? We were overreacting. Nothing scary happens down here. Ahem…”
“Why are you out of breath again?”
“It’s just the coal dust. They really have an amazingly reproduced environment. How are you mate?”
“Ah, the French. Always tall and hulking.”
All in all, the Mining Exhibit is a prime example of an immersive, wonderful environment that is sure to give the visitor a rounded taste of mine life.
TWO BROKEN HEARTS
Somewhere in the museum
On paper, it seems rare that a visitor has a broken heart when they step into the doors of the Deutsches Museum, and even rarer that two successive people have them. But people have secrets, and everybody who walks into the Museum carries baggage.
That is an observation of life. It is improbable that such a situation should change because of a mere visit to a museum. But the Museum’s exhibits bring people together. Enthusiasm is sometimes infectious. And sometimes partaking in the joy of learning, of discovery, is enough for two people to be brought together, to find joy in each other’s company again. And maybe, just maybe, the broken hearts, exposed to happiness and intense emotion for awhile, might just start to heal as they open up and let each other know just how they feel. Regardless of whether they are scared — or smiling.
Got stuck with this for too long. You’re right, maybe it’s time we stopped — I had to think a mile to reroute this to the song, and I don’t like my stories forced.
To be honest, I sometimes have the same problem as you. Not always, mind, but there are some occasions when I think “aw jeez, am I like those people”? But you know, fiction isn’t the same as real life, and I think that we can afford to take a little break from it all to get our bearings. Life beckons.
Signing off (for the last time)?