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Vorsprung durch Technik

The German Museum of Technology

Locomotives are not generally known for their elegant design, but there are a few exceptions, one of which is the German Class V200 diesel-hydraulic locomotive from the fifties. Popular with railway enthusiasts the world over, it has a very distinctive livery with a V-shaped detail on the nose end, reminiscent of a Volkswagen T1 van. There are only a few V200s left, and therefore it is fortunate that the German Museum of Technology in Berlin still has one — and the cool thing is that you can have a look inside to see its two V12 engines and its rather spartan cabs. Located at a former goods station, the museum exhibits some forty engines & carriages at its roundhouses, as well as fifty 1:5 scale models from around 1900. Regrettably the engine sheds were partially closed for renovation last month, and they will fully reopen only next year. Fortunately there is much more to see at this great museum, which boasts an exhibition space of a whopping 26,500 m².

DB № V200 018 diesel locomotive at the German Museum of Technology
DB Class V200 diesel-hydraulic locomotive

Initially mainly a transport museum, the Technikmuseum features exhibitions on rail & road transport, aviation and shipping, but its collections cover a much broader spectrum, including photo & film technology, ICT, papermaking & printing, brewing and the manufacture of textile, suitcases and jewellery, and chemistry & pharmaceutics. Highlights include a Rumpler Tropfenwagen, the first streamlined production vehicle of which only two still exist, a Hansa-Lloyd Elektro-Schlepper, an electric truck dating from 1935, and a Junkers Ju 52 aircraft. Other remarkable objects are a replica of Konrad Zuse’s Z1 from 1938, which was the world’s first computer, an Enigma cipher machine, a 1948 Telefunken 100-kW medium-wave radio transmitter previously operated by RIAS, a Linotype typesetter from 1904 and a Jacquard loom from 1920, to name just a few. Offering a compelling overview of the many ways in which technology has shaped our history & culture, the museum is one of Berlin’s main attractions.

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How exactly does a steam locomotive work? An online exhibition on Google Arts & Culture using models from the German Museum of Technology shows how the boiler is heated and how the steam makes the engine move.


When British Railways decided that they wanted to replace their King & Castle Class steamers with diesel-hydraulic locomotives, it was apparent that the Germans had a Vorsprung durch Technik here, and their V200 became the model for BR Classes 42 & 43. Outshopped from two British manufacturers, these so-called ‘Warship Class’ engines were slightly scaled down to suit the narrow British loading gauge, but otherwise they bore a close resemblance to the V200 when they hit the tracks in 1958, both cosmetically & in the engineering employed.


When in 1948 the Soviet Union tried to force the Western Allied powers to abandon their post-war jurisdictions in Berlin by blocking all rail, road & water communications between Berlin and the West, the United States & Britain organized the Berlin Airlift to supply the city with food & other vital supplies by air. The Douglas C-47 Skytrain that prominently hangs outside the museum is one of the so-called ‘candy bombers’ that were famously used in the airlift.


Operated by the American occupying forces, radio broadcaster RIAS targeted not only the population of West Berlin but the East Germans as well. At the Museum for Communication in Berlin we have an East German 3-kW jamming transmitter from Köpenick, one of ten such jammers meant to obstruct radio reception from the West, especially from RIAS, which the GDR leadership loathed for its ‘reactionary propaganda’.