October 2008


Overly Technical

The Concorde in flight position

The Concorde in "flight position"

So this was the big weekend that Kyiv Katya and I headed to the Technik Museum at Sinsheim and Speyer.

I’m not quite sure how I convinced her to go to both museums over the holiday weekend, but I did. For me the key attraction was the ability to go onboard the Concorde and the TU-144. Everything else was pure gravy.

Both of us managed to become completely and utterly exhausted both days, fortunately at the same time. We both reached the point where we trudged out, willingly, and completely overstuffed with tons of useless information. It was exciting to see the 747 over Speyer, and fun to walk around the Soviet Union’s space shuttle equivalent, the Buran. (Opening day for the Buran exhibit was Friday!)

Now I have to confess, that as thrilled as I was to wander the grounds of the two halves of the museum, in the end, both museums were trying to separate us from our money and both museums had their problems. Let me warn anybody in a wheelchair: skip the museum. There are lots of stairs and a complete and utter dearth of elevators. Anybody in a wheelchair will be unable to see the inside of any of the planes on display as there are numerous stairs to climb, including many tight spiral staircases.

Aeroflot TU-144

Aeroflot TU-144

Now pretend for a moment that you were able to get your wheelchair up the spiral staircase and into the Concorde that is on display in Sinsheim—you would be pretty well stuck at the entrance. The museum is proud of the fact that the planes are in “flight position”; which in the case of the Concorde means that it’s positioned about 5 seconds after take-off at a tremendously steep incline between the entrance at the back and the cockpit at the top front.

My inner-cynic believes it’s at this angle to prevent people from staying inside it for too long. The fittings that are left are protected by plastic casing and the space is extremely tight—and you have to wait to slowly make your way to the top front and the cockpit, while others come careening down the length of the plane, bouncing off of the various protrusions like a plinko chip until they reach the rear bulkhead at a speed of 20 kilometers an hour.

The same could be said for the Soviet’s TU-144, which the museum calls the “Russian Concorde”—meaning that it is super-sonic transport. I found the TU-144 to be a bit more spacious, although it had much older seats on display than the Concorde. It was just as magnificent and wonderful as the Concorde, and it too was pitched at a tremendous incline as if it had taken off about five second before.

From there I convinced Katya to go with me in and out of several other airplanes until she had enough. The “flight position” feature of the museum makes for great photos from the ground, but when you find your calve muscles aching in the third airplane while you feel disoriented, it’s time to quit. Which she did; I was a sucker and I climbed in and out of several other aircraft which were apparently in the middle of low level turns inbound for landing. Marbles would hug the walls as they roll rapidly to the back.

After lunch, we returned to the museum. It was, ultimately, overwhelming. Lots and lots of stuff to look at. Cars, train engines, organs, motorcycles, tanks, trucks, farm machinery. Whatever. Katya and I hit information overload at about the same time. We made a quick and gracious exit, returned to the hotel and zoned out for a couple hours.

LH 747-230 Combi

LH 747-230 Combi

Saturday we went to Speyer—where the first thing I climbed through was the U-Boat, U9. It was impressive, and definitely more hands on and exploratory than the planes at Sinsheim. I think Katya was beginning to get tired of the airplanes, so she sat down while I climbed up to the Lufthansa 747-230 that is on display. It too is in “flight position”, about two minutes before landing with a slight turn to the right in progress. The plane was a bit stripped down so you could see the elements of the plane, like how far below the floor cargo containers sit. You could also walk on one of the wings, and go into the upper deck.

From there, we wandered into the news Buran display—one of the Soviet Union’s space shuttles, one that was used to test landing capabilities. The shuttle was most impressive and beautiful. We wandered up to the top floor where we could get a better view of the Buran. On display were various uniforms and equipment for both Soviet and American shuttles. It really brought back memories of when I was into space—I wish they’d had a bit more related to the Challenger.

Soviet Buran

Soviet Buran

A lack of seating in the building forced us outside where we watched kids slide down a long slide and rested our feet. There’s just so much one can look at in one day before one’s brain gives out. We reached maximum, dined in their restaurant, and then watched the IMAX film, “Mision Mond”—which was in German and I was tremendously disappointed—too many CGI effects and not enough real-life footage.

There are a lot of great things to see at both museums, but ultimately it was overwhelming.

Katya watched me on the train ride home, saying that I looked more exhausted when we got back to Heidelberg than when we left Speyer. I can just imagine that any number of spouses have suffered mightily through the museum as their technical minded loved ones were in hog heaven. Fortunately for me, Katya and I peaked at both museums at about the same time.

3 comments to Overly Technical

  • koko

    i really want to see the concorde! i remember being fascinated by it when i was little 🙂

  • J

    Glad you liked it as much as I did. I waited for the Concorde to be on display before I went. It really was a highlight for me. Walking on the wing of the 747 too.

  • I misread that for a second and thought you said “I missed when I was in space” – Was TQE an cosmonaut? Oh, no I guess not.

    p.s. I told my friend about this, and she asked if you didn’t like cosmopolitans. I kid you not – I cannot make up things like this.