During a recent visit to Berlin, we took Miss M to see the dinosaurs at the Museum für Naturkunde (Natural History Museum).
We had high expectations. I had fond memories of visit during my year studying in Germany and CNN Travel had awarded it first place in its Top 10 Dinosaur Museums.
I must say, as a dinosaur museum, we were a little disappointed. It is still a great natural history museum, though.
As we entered, we were immediately greeted by the highlight of the museum: the Brachiosaurus, nicknamed Oscar. The Brachiosaurus is currently Miss M’s favourite dinosaur. She was instantly in awe and love.
It is pretty awe-inspiring. At 13.27 metres, it is the tallest dinosaur on display in the world. This Guinness World Record Holder dominates the dinosaur gallery.
A Diplodocus, a Kentrosaurus and another sauropod share centre stage.
We enjoyed viewing these four dinosaurs through interactive fantastic telescopes, called “Jurascopes”. The Jurascopes show short, animated clips of the fossilised skeletons on display. These gain internal organs, muscles and skin to become living and breathing dinosaurs in their natural habitat.
The Museum posted the clip for the Diplodocus online:
To the right of the Brachiosaurus are more of the dinosaurs at the Museum für Naturkunde: the carnivores’ corner. We marvelled at the Allosaurus, the speedy Elaphrosaurus and other therapods – though nothing compared to Oscar. Tristan the T-Rex has his own room (more on that in a moment).
The most successful dinosaur excavation of all time
Most of the dinosaurs at the Museum für Naturkunde come from one place. Between 1909 and 1913, a team of scientists from the Museum carried out expeditions to Tendaguru Hill, in what was then German East Africa (Tanzania). These expeditions uncovered approximately 230 tonnes of bones, including the Brachiosaurus, Allosaurus and Kentrosaurus on display in the Museum.
Miss M was not as impressed by the fossilised plants and animals that form part of the exhibit. These include various fish and shrimp, dragonflies and plants from the late Jurassic era. To be fair, she really only had eyes for Oscar.
I enjoyed seeing the flying reptiles and the other highlight of the central atrium and the dinosaurs at the Museum für Naturkunde: the Archaeopteryx lithographica.
Jakob Niemeyer found the Archaeopteryx in 1874 in the Solnhofen limestone of the Altmühl Valley. This is not far from another dinosaur museum that our little dinosaur aficionado loves.
Niemeyer found the transitional fossil not long after Charles Darwin published his “The Origin of the Species”. This timing made it quite possibly the most famous fossil in the world.
Unfortunately, Niemeyer probably did not recognise the importance of his find. He traded the fossil for a cow worth around 150 German Marks. The new owner subsequently sold the fossil for 2,000 Marks. Finally, Werner von Siemens (the famous German industrialist) advanced the sum of 20,000 German Marks to buy the specimen for the Museum für Naturkunde.
How does it compare?
We were most disappointed by the number of dinosaurs on display in the dinosaur hall at the Museum for Naturkünde. The Brussels Museum, for example, has a lot more dinosaurs. However, Miss M’s awe at seeing her favourite dinosaur made up for any disappointment.
The dinosaur exhibit does not end in the centre atrium.
Tristan Otto the T-Rex
No visit to the Berlin Museum für Naturkunde would be complete without a visit to see Tristan.
Tristan is one of the best-preserved Tyrannosaurus skeletons in the world. His is the third most complete skeleton in the world after “Sue” in Chicago. Even as a fossil, he scared Miss M.
Tristan has his own room with great light screens and even his own app: the King of the dinosaurs does not have to share the space with the other dinosaurs at the Museum für Naturkunde.
While wandering from one part of the museum to the next we discovered a number of other dinosaur fossils. We saw a Dracorex skull (yes, that’s the one named after Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry) and leg bones and shoulder blades from a Brachiosaurus. These are rather neglected and line a hallway together with some miscellaneous diorama.
We were very impressed by the Biodiversity Wall. It opened in 2007 following major renovation works and explains the principles of evolution.
Both the size and number (around 3,000!) of species represented are really impressive. The
Next, we passed into the Wet collections. It’s a chamber of horrors!
It contains around one million specimens from all animal groups, stored in 276,000 jars in a mixture of alcohol and water to protect them from decay. They take up 12.6 km of shelf space!
Berlin has one of the most technically advanced collection buildings – you view the specimens through glass walls.
There is just something about the Berlin Museum and dead things.
The other exhibit that we enjoyed is the Masters of Taxidermy exhibit. It explains how the experts reconstruct animals for display, depending on their skin, feathers, etc.
However, the exhibit is very macabre. Two of the most beloved residents of the Berlin Zoo are now stuffed and mounted in the Museum: Bobby the gorilla and Knut the polar bear.
Peter and I remember Knut and his keeper, who raised him by hand. Knut drowned at age 5 and was later found to have died from encephalitis. (His keeper died of cancer few years before Knut). Seeing him mounted on display was a little surreal.
The Museum’s gift shop is great and has lots of dinosaur-themed gifts. Miss M selected a book of masks, a fossil egg and a dinosaur pencil.
The Museum also has a cafe, but we did not use it during our visit.
Opening times and prices
You can see the dinosaurs at the Museum für Naturkunde from Tuesdays to Fridays from 9.30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. It is closed on Mondays.
Tickets cost EUR 8.00 for adults and EUR 5.00 for children and concession holders.
Our verdict of the dinosaurs at the Museum für Naturkunde
As a dinosaur museum, we gave the Museum für Naturkunde five thumbs up. In our ‘Little Dinosaur Aficionado’ ranking, it is in second place behind the Dinosaur Hall in Brussels (at present).
However, if we look at the Museum as a whole, we would definitely give it six thumbs up.