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Science Centres
Science for the senses

How does it feel to be in the eye of the storm? What would your body look like if it turned into ice? Experiencing science with all the senses is what Experimenta is all about. Tom Anstey spoke to Wolfgang Hansch about one of Germany’s premier science institutions

By Tom Anstey | Published in Attractions Management 2019 issue 2

Heilbronn – a city on the Neckar River in southwest Germany better known for its wine making industry – might not be the first place that springs to mind when you think of elite learning centres for STEM subjects.

But the city is in fact home to the country’s largest science centre, which has recently undergone a major transformation, with four new permanent exhibition galleries set across 3,200sq m adding new facilities to the 25,000sq m site.

Years in the making
The idea to open a science centre in the city was first concieved in 2005. To make the vision a reality, the city turned to a man already familiar with it, Wolfgang Hansch.
Originally director of the Natural History Museum of Heilbronn from 1994 up until his appointment as managing director of Experimenta in 2005, Hansch was given the task of establishing a brand new science centre in the city, developing a former storehouse into the first iteration of Experimenta.

The attraction became a reality in November 2009 when it opened with the creed of “Discover Experience and Understand Science”.

“By 2012 our visitor numbers were exceeding expectations by far,” says Hansch. “That’s when we started talking about an expansion of the site, eventually deciding on an entirely new development to better serve the public.”

Backed by the Dieter Schwarz Foundation, a non-profit investment arm of supermarket giant Lidl, the centre broke ground on its expansion by Berlin-based architects Sauerbruch Hutton in 2016. In July 2017, the site closed completely so it could undergo a full transformation, with new exhibits, reimagined spaces and a new building. It reopened on 31 March, complete with a dome theatre, an observatory and workshop spaces.

All Aboard
While the science centre was closed for redevelopment, Hansch and his team came up with a novel way of continuing to serve the population – converting an oil tanker into a floating science centre.

Called the MS Experimenta, the vessel is 105m long and offers more than 500sq m of interactive attractions. Opened in January 2018, a number of primary and secondary school courses are offered onboard the vessel, with schools accommodated inside two labs and an open workshop area. The floating attraction also offers a series of interactive exhibits for visitors, while there are areas for open workshops.

Its first year was a huge success, with 30,492 visitors in 2018. This success led to MS Experimenta taking a trip to Stuttgart, ahead of a nationwide tour.

Between 17 April and 16 October 2019, the ship will be anchored in Heilbronn to coincide with the Federal Garden Show with content tailored towards the event.

“When we first decided to launch the ship, it was set to be a permanent offer for Experimenta,” says Hansch. “It was such a great success however that we’ve decided to anchor it in large cities all over Germany going forward starting in 2020.”

A world class offering
Following the three-and-a-half year redevelopment, which included the new galleries, renovation of the old storehouse and refurbishment of the MS Experimenta, Hansch believes the science centre now offers one of the premium experiences in Europe, if not the world.

“We have three main offers on site,” he says. “First, there are our galleries, where you can use different exhibits from biology, chemistry, physics and so on. Second, we have our Discovery World with its well-equipped labs. Finally, we have the Science Dome. These are our primary offerings. We also have an observatory on the roof and a small theatre for teenagers aged 5- to 10-years-old. This variety is extraordinary. For science centres in Germany, I think it’s a new step in their development.

“This is the largest science centre in Germany. The most important point, however, is our extraordinary lineup of exhibitions. It’s not just that we’re the biggest, but also that we have the best content anywhere on the Continent.”

Nobel goals
The centre is targetting 250,000 visitors a year, an ambitious goal for a city with a population of 125,000 people. But what’s even more ambitious is Hansch’s ultimate goal, inspiring one of Experimenta’s visitors to take science’s most coveted prize.

“We want to become a science centre where the visitors have fun and where they can learn about science and technology,” he says. “My dream is that, in 20 or 30 years, we have a Nobel prize winner, whose first step in science was making a visit to Experimenta.”

The galleries
Experimenta opens up a world of scientific knowledge with 275 interactive exhibits set over four new galleries

Two of the four permanent galleries were created by Dutch experience specialist NorthernLight, with the remaining two produced by Hüttinger and designed by Berlin company Triad and Stuttgart firm Milla and Partner respectively.

“We worked with around 50 people, including engineers, robotics, designers and more,” says NorthernLight co-founder and director, Steven Schaeken.

“It’s one of the best projects I’ve worked on in my 20 years in the field. Experimenta helped to get some of the most innovative thinking out of our heads.”

The NorthernLight-designed galleries – Nature of Things and World View – took three-and-a-half years to create. The former is based on matter and explores five elements of everyday matter, how light affects matter, the structure of matter and organic matter – while the latter allows visitors to make and do things on given topics from computer science to robotics.

Experimenta opens up a world of scientific knowledge with 275 interactive exhibits set over four new galleries

“With the Nature of Things gallery, our thoughts were that lots of the modern world is built around immaterial things so we wanted to focus on the world through its physical qualities,” says Schaeken.

“The concept we had at the beginning for World View, however, was kind of an atelier. We wanted a learning centre-cum-makers centre. We assembled this with stand-alone, hands-on exhibits and then designed a yellow snake that connects them all throughout the gallery.”

The third gallery KopfSachen, asks how complex and diverse man perceives the world with his senses. The final gallery, Metabolism, shows how the inner workings of things makes the invisible visible.



The institution promotes a wide range of future-oriented ideas
The Science Dome
Thomas Gellermann, head of Special Projects, Kraftwerk

Perhaps the most significant and high-tech part of the reimagined Experimenta is its Science Dome.

Created by Austrian company Kraftwerk and US manufacturer Spitz, the high tech experience space combines a traditional planetarium with a full dome system and a performance stage. Inside, the audience sits on a rotating platform that can be turned 180 degrees, with special technology to stage lectures, digital cinema performances and theatre productions. The dome also offers full 360-degree projection using six Barco projectors. One innovative element is a water curtain.

Kraftwerk was responsible for the technical design and detailed planning of the Science Dome. It also handled everything from the implementation, programming and commissioning of AV right down to the seats.

"We came up with an idea to combine a planetarium or a full dome system together with the stage scenario to enhance the multipurpose venue"

“Despite the new building being quite large, space was limited due to its location on an island in the Neckar river,” says Thomas Gellermann, head of Special Projects at Kraftwerk.


“There was an extensive wish list of different venues and scenarios that Experimenta wanted to include and integrating them all in one area was a challenge. Soon, we came up with an idea to combine a planetarium or a full dome system together with the stage scenario to enhance the multipurpose venue while still allowing it to be located in one space. This was the birth of a highly innovative installation.”

With the combination of planetarium and theatre, visitors can travel virtually into space or experience exciting experimental shows
Who did what?
  • Galleries: NorthernLight, Hüttinger, Triad, Milla and Partner
  • Exhibition design and production: Jochen Hunger, Ligneolus, Hüttinger
  • Construction: Drees & Sommer
  • Architects: Sauerbruch Hutton Berlin
  • Science Dome: Kraftwerk Living Technologies, Spitz
  • Sponsors: Dieter Schwarz Foundation, Bechtle AG, Lidl, Kaufland
Wolfgang Hansch wants to inspire Experimenta’s visitors with science, a mission he has been on since joining as managing director is 2005
New interactive exhibits offer a range of scientific activities to visitors
The galleries and programming teach science in a way which is highly acessible for children and other visitors
The galleries and programming teach science in a way which is highly acessible for children and other visitors
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Science Centres
Science for the senses

How does it feel to be in the eye of the storm? What would your body look like if it turned into ice? Experiencing science with all the senses is what Experimenta is all about. Tom Anstey spoke to Wolfgang Hansch about one of Germany’s premier science institutions

By Tom Anstey | Published in Attractions Management 2019 issue 2

Heilbronn – a city on the Neckar River in southwest Germany better known for its wine making industry – might not be the first place that springs to mind when you think of elite learning centres for STEM subjects.

But the city is in fact home to the country’s largest science centre, which has recently undergone a major transformation, with four new permanent exhibition galleries set across 3,200sq m adding new facilities to the 25,000sq m site.

Years in the making
The idea to open a science centre in the city was first concieved in 2005. To make the vision a reality, the city turned to a man already familiar with it, Wolfgang Hansch.
Originally director of the Natural History Museum of Heilbronn from 1994 up until his appointment as managing director of Experimenta in 2005, Hansch was given the task of establishing a brand new science centre in the city, developing a former storehouse into the first iteration of Experimenta.

The attraction became a reality in November 2009 when it opened with the creed of “Discover Experience and Understand Science”.

“By 2012 our visitor numbers were exceeding expectations by far,” says Hansch. “That’s when we started talking about an expansion of the site, eventually deciding on an entirely new development to better serve the public.”

Backed by the Dieter Schwarz Foundation, a non-profit investment arm of supermarket giant Lidl, the centre broke ground on its expansion by Berlin-based architects Sauerbruch Hutton in 2016. In July 2017, the site closed completely so it could undergo a full transformation, with new exhibits, reimagined spaces and a new building. It reopened on 31 March, complete with a dome theatre, an observatory and workshop spaces.

All Aboard
While the science centre was closed for redevelopment, Hansch and his team came up with a novel way of continuing to serve the population – converting an oil tanker into a floating science centre.

Called the MS Experimenta, the vessel is 105m long and offers more than 500sq m of interactive attractions. Opened in January 2018, a number of primary and secondary school courses are offered onboard the vessel, with schools accommodated inside two labs and an open workshop area. The floating attraction also offers a series of interactive exhibits for visitors, while there are areas for open workshops.

Its first year was a huge success, with 30,492 visitors in 2018. This success led to MS Experimenta taking a trip to Stuttgart, ahead of a nationwide tour.

Between 17 April and 16 October 2019, the ship will be anchored in Heilbronn to coincide with the Federal Garden Show with content tailored towards the event.

“When we first decided to launch the ship, it was set to be a permanent offer for Experimenta,” says Hansch. “It was such a great success however that we’ve decided to anchor it in large cities all over Germany going forward starting in 2020.”

A world class offering
Following the three-and-a-half year redevelopment, which included the new galleries, renovation of the old storehouse and refurbishment of the MS Experimenta, Hansch believes the science centre now offers one of the premium experiences in Europe, if not the world.

“We have three main offers on site,” he says. “First, there are our galleries, where you can use different exhibits from biology, chemistry, physics and so on. Second, we have our Discovery World with its well-equipped labs. Finally, we have the Science Dome. These are our primary offerings. We also have an observatory on the roof and a small theatre for teenagers aged 5- to 10-years-old. This variety is extraordinary. For science centres in Germany, I think it’s a new step in their development.

“This is the largest science centre in Germany. The most important point, however, is our extraordinary lineup of exhibitions. It’s not just that we’re the biggest, but also that we have the best content anywhere on the Continent.”

Nobel goals
The centre is targetting 250,000 visitors a year, an ambitious goal for a city with a population of 125,000 people. But what’s even more ambitious is Hansch’s ultimate goal, inspiring one of Experimenta’s visitors to take science’s most coveted prize.

“We want to become a science centre where the visitors have fun and where they can learn about science and technology,” he says. “My dream is that, in 20 or 30 years, we have a Nobel prize winner, whose first step in science was making a visit to Experimenta.”

The galleries
Experimenta opens up a world of scientific knowledge with 275 interactive exhibits set over four new galleries

Two of the four permanent galleries were created by Dutch experience specialist NorthernLight, with the remaining two produced by Hüttinger and designed by Berlin company Triad and Stuttgart firm Milla and Partner respectively.

“We worked with around 50 people, including engineers, robotics, designers and more,” says NorthernLight co-founder and director, Steven Schaeken.

“It’s one of the best projects I’ve worked on in my 20 years in the field. Experimenta helped to get some of the most innovative thinking out of our heads.”

The NorthernLight-designed galleries – Nature of Things and World View – took three-and-a-half years to create. The former is based on matter and explores five elements of everyday matter, how light affects matter, the structure of matter and organic matter – while the latter allows visitors to make and do things on given topics from computer science to robotics.

Experimenta opens up a world of scientific knowledge with 275 interactive exhibits set over four new galleries

“With the Nature of Things gallery, our thoughts were that lots of the modern world is built around immaterial things so we wanted to focus on the world through its physical qualities,” says Schaeken.

“The concept we had at the beginning for World View, however, was kind of an atelier. We wanted a learning centre-cum-makers centre. We assembled this with stand-alone, hands-on exhibits and then designed a yellow snake that connects them all throughout the gallery.”

The third gallery KopfSachen, asks how complex and diverse man perceives the world with his senses. The final gallery, Metabolism, shows how the inner workings of things makes the invisible visible.



The institution promotes a wide range of future-oriented ideas
The Science Dome
Thomas Gellermann, head of Special Projects, Kraftwerk

Perhaps the most significant and high-tech part of the reimagined Experimenta is its Science Dome.

Created by Austrian company Kraftwerk and US manufacturer Spitz, the high tech experience space combines a traditional planetarium with a full dome system and a performance stage. Inside, the audience sits on a rotating platform that can be turned 180 degrees, with special technology to stage lectures, digital cinema performances and theatre productions. The dome also offers full 360-degree projection using six Barco projectors. One innovative element is a water curtain.

Kraftwerk was responsible for the technical design and detailed planning of the Science Dome. It also handled everything from the implementation, programming and commissioning of AV right down to the seats.

"We came up with an idea to combine a planetarium or a full dome system together with the stage scenario to enhance the multipurpose venue"

“Despite the new building being quite large, space was limited due to its location on an island in the Neckar river,” says Thomas Gellermann, head of Special Projects at Kraftwerk.


“There was an extensive wish list of different venues and scenarios that Experimenta wanted to include and integrating them all in one area was a challenge. Soon, we came up with an idea to combine a planetarium or a full dome system together with the stage scenario to enhance the multipurpose venue while still allowing it to be located in one space. This was the birth of a highly innovative installation.”

With the combination of planetarium and theatre, visitors can travel virtually into space or experience exciting experimental shows
Who did what?
  • Galleries: NorthernLight, Hüttinger, Triad, Milla and Partner
  • Exhibition design and production: Jochen Hunger, Ligneolus, Hüttinger
  • Construction: Drees & Sommer
  • Architects: Sauerbruch Hutton Berlin
  • Science Dome: Kraftwerk Living Technologies, Spitz
  • Sponsors: Dieter Schwarz Foundation, Bechtle AG, Lidl, Kaufland
Wolfgang Hansch wants to inspire Experimenta’s visitors with science, a mission he has been on since joining as managing director is 2005
New interactive exhibits offer a range of scientific activities to visitors
The galleries and programming teach science in a way which is highly acessible for children and other visitors
The galleries and programming teach science in a way which is highly acessible for children and other visitors
 


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Hitchin, Hertfordshire SG5 1DJ Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385

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