January 2012


Last Saturday: Peenemünde Historical and Technical Information Center

V2 Rocket

The infamous V2

So while the only honest word that could describe this Saturday is “lazy”, last Saturday I was busy visiting the Peenemünde Historical and Technical Information Center.

It was actually the core reason that I wanted to visit Usedom—one of my colleagues had mentioned that the museum is about the development of the V2 rocket by Nazi scientists during the Great Depression and World War II. Had I not visited the island for New Year’s Eve, I certainly would have made a point of heading up there for a weekend trip at some point this spring.

UBB Train

My chariot.

Unfortunately my guests had motion sickness on the ride up to Usedom and so Saturday morning I set out alone – it was a 50 minute train ride from the nearest train station, including a connection. Usedom is not a small island.

The weather was also misty – and so when I got off the train, I really couldn’t see my destination, and had to examine a map – Peenemünde is a small, perhaps tiny, village with three museums and a harbor that features a boat tour of the Baltic. From my perspective the Peenemünde Historical and Technical Information Center is probably the only museum worth visiting.

Coal Conveyor Belt

First thing you see.

One of the fascinating things about the Peenemünde Historical and Technical Information Center is how ambivalent it is about the history that it is covering – on the one hand, many important rocketry inventions happened there, inventions that made putting man on the moon possible. On the other hand, rockets that fell on London were invented there and, to boot, concentration camp inmates were compelled to work there, both on building test-beds, and on production of the actual weapons.

This ambivalence runs throughout the entire exhibit and it seemed to me that the only time Peenemünde allowed itself to be “proud” – if that is indeed the correct term – is when it examined the post-World War II era when many of its scientists participated in putting Sputnik in orbit and putting man on the moon. However, these moments of celebration were brief – and were immediately followed by discussion of ethical considerations for scientists: if their work is for war, death, and destruction, should they make scientific progress?

In particular the museum acknowledges that there had to be some kind of cognitive dissonance for many of the top scientists who felt, at least during the 1930s, that they were working on a space program, not a weapons program. The museum acknowledged that this façade seemed to be kept up, even as World War II broke out and, first of all, Hitler stopped all non-war essential projects, and, second of all, concentration inmates started to be used at the Peenemünde facility.

Peenemünde Historical and Technical Information Center

This is where the exhibit is housed. It actually has something in common with London's Tate Modern.

4 comments to Last Saturday: Peenemünde Historical and Technical Information Center

  • I was in Usedom before and to put it frankly, thought it was crap. I guess it’s off to a bad start with a name that sounds suspiciously like “Used Condom” but what got me were the crowds and rip-off prices for everything despite the fact the beaches weren’t particularly nice and the water was fucking freezing. Never mind the V2, the water would kill you if you spent any time in it. Had I known about the museum, I would most certainly have made a detour.
    So it’s your birthday in February. Havin’ a party?!

  • So was the Peenemünde facility also a power station at one time?

    Or just big and massive and made of brick?

    Mmmmm Berlin in Febbbruaryyyyyy

    Could be doable depending on when.

  • Irish Berliner – I didn’t venture into the water — other than to put my hands in it — so I didn’t test the beach in that way. Further when I did look in the water, it seemed that it was rocks, not sand–so not my kind of beach.

    Ian – It was, in fact, a power station. It too has a turbine hall. Currently there is no party planned — I’ll not be around much in February.

  • PseudoWife

    You know, I like how you unpacked scientific progress in this post! 😉