Last Saturday evening found mein Schatz and I wandering around Berlin in pursuit of knowledge. In other words, we took part in the city’s Lange Nacht der Wissenschaften — the Long Night of Science. Basically, the universities, museums, and research institutes open their doors to the public, offering tours, scientific presentations, and hands-on exhibits. Along with the Long Night of Museums, it’s one of my favorite events of the year.
I love that German cities (well, every German city I’ve lived in, anyway) organize these kind of events — complete with shuttle buses to the locations, and free access to public transportation included in the ticket cost. We actually bought our tickets from the U-Bahn ticket machine before we got on the train, and they cost 12 Euros per person for adults. Not too shabby, especially considering the event usually lasts until midnight or even later — you can pack in a lot of museums or exhibitions in one evening!
We have definitely noticed a pattern in our selection process during these “long nights” — we almost always end up visiting something related to health or medicine. Like the Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, where we geeked out and attended lectures on infectious diseases and peered into microscopes at bacteria. Or the Hospital Museum in Bremen. Or the Blind Museum in Berlin. It definitely makes sense that we gravitate towards these areas, since it’s where both of our professional interests lie — and this past weekend was no different!
Our first stop was the DNA exihibit at the Natural History Museum, which we both actually found to be a little ho-hum. But hey, the other parts of the museum were open too, and I got to take photos of dinosaur bones! So it was all good. We then moved on to the Charité’s Mitte campus, where we attended a 9:00pm lecture on Alzheimer’s treatment research.
But the highlight of our evening was our visit to the Berlin Museum of Medical History. We more or less made a beeline for the “specimen hall” — or Gruselkabinett, as mein Schatz is fond of calling it — which features hundreds of pathological-anatomical specimens on view. The collection was begun by Rudolf Virchow, one of Germany’s most famous physicians and one of the pioneers of public health.
You wander up and down aisles full of jars of both healthy and diseased hearts, lungs, livers, brains, you name it. One of the last aisles in the hall includes fetuses at various stages of development, both healthy and those that died from deformities in the womb. For the squeamish among you, I won’t go into terrible detail, but those deformities were really the stuff of nightmares. I wasn’t as grossed out (for lack of a more elegant description) as I thought I would be, but was instead really fascinated with the complexity of the human body. Lucky for you, we weren’t allowed to take photos!
The museum also has a lot of really neat old medical equipment on view — like old-fashioned forceps (yikes!), an iron lung, and surgical tools from the 1940s. Also cool is one of Virchnow’s old lecture halls, which was almost completely destroyed in World War II. The ruins have been turned into a really beautiful event space, which apparently the Charité uses quite often for receptions and the like.
All in all, a great night of science! Even though I was coughing and sniffling with my cold, I still managed to really enjoy myself. And we’re already scheming for the next Lange Nacht!
Does your city host these kinds of open houses? What kinds of research institutes or exhibits would you want to see?