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Wolfsburg's world-class science museum

photo by Klemens Ortmeyer

ABOVE: A view of Phæno's revolutionary sculpted building, which was designed by London architect Zaha Hadid.

Phæno, a.k.a. "The Experimental Landscape" in Wolfsburg, Germany, has joined the top ranks of international science museums since its grand opening in November, 2005. The museum has some 250 hands-on experimental stations within its 9,000 square meters of exhibit space.

photo by klemens ortmeyerA press release describes phæno's building--sculpted from SCC, or self-compacting concrete--as "a covered artificial landscape with undulating hills and valleys" that incorporates "jagged angles, looming curves, fractured planes, and daring protrusions." Zaha Hadid of London was able to realize her architectural vision after winning an international competition that attracted 23 proposals from major architects in eight countries. The project (including an underground parking garage and a bridge link to the city) cost €79 million and required 4½ years to build.

photo by Klemens OrtmeyerTo a layman, the ultramodern structure is weird but intriguing, with its blend of curved concrete, asymmetrical latticework ceiling girders, and angular windows that evoke memories of Star Trek. The vast interior space is unstructured, for the most part, making it the kind of place where adults and children can wander around freely and sample the exhibits or hands-on experiments that interest them. Some of the more noteworthy displays include:

  • photo: phaeno/Lars LandmannA fire tornado (one of the world's largest)  that's ignited several times each hour, shooting a funnel cloud of flame up to six meters or 20 feet into the air.

  • A stubborn suitcase that resists movement and wants to move in a straight line. (What's the secret? "It's physics," says a phæno brochure.)

  • Frozen shadows, which lets visitors freeze their poses and movements on a wall for several minutes.

  • A flying carpet that hovers above the floor on a cushion of air.

  • Microscopy stations where phæno guests can get up close and personal with microbes and other miniature matter.

The museum also has a Science Theatre for shows and experimental lectures, plus "theme days" and other special events. Other amenities include restaurants and a museum shop.

Visitor information:

Opening hours: Phæno is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Tickets are sold until one hour before closing, but allow at least two hours for a visit.)

Location: Phæno is on Willy-Brandt-Platz, next to the Wolfsburg railroad station, only 65 minutes from Berlin's Hauptbahnhof on high-speed ICE trains of the Deutsche Bahn. Volkswagen's Autostadt autotmotive theme park and car-delivery center are just across a footbridge. If you're arriving by car, you can park underground for a fee.

For ticket prices and other information: Visit the museum's English-language Web site at For hotel and city information, see the local tourist office's Wolfsburg Marketing site.

Related article:
Volkswagen's Autostadt - 10-page guide

Top, 1st and 2nd inset photos copyright © Klemens Ortmeyer.
Fire tornado photo copyright © phæno/Lars Landmann.

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