After arriving by subway (or train) at Westbahnhof station I find my way out into the cool fresh air. I gravitate to the busy street corner joining Mariahilfer Gürtel and Mariahilfer Straße, next to the world famous Swedish furniture store and stand eagerly at the Westbahnhof, Gerstnerstraße tram stop. After a 5 minute wait the 52 Baumgarten tram comes gliding around the corner. (You can also take the 60 Rodaun tram). The museum is just a short five stops away. Getting off at Winckelmannstraße I stroll to the pedestrian crossing and cross the road, where less then 100 metres in front of me the Vienna Technical Museum emerges through the trees.
Situated at Mariahilferstraße 212, in Penzing, the 14th district of Vienna, the museum is housed in a beautiful turn of the century palace like building, with internal period steel structures. It first opened its doors in 1918 and was originally commissioned by Emperor Franz Josef as a dedicated museum, which remains state run today. Upon arriving at the museum you are led down to a glazed entrance which houses the ticket desks, some convenient toilets, lockers, and a generous stylish seating area.
The staff are friendly, with tickets costing €14.00 for adults, under 19-year-olds are free as are visitors with disabilities, whilst students get reduced rate entry. The museum is open 7 days a week, 10am to 6pm, but closed on Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and on New Year’s Day.
Ticket grasped firmly in my fist, I push through the barrier and enter the museum itself. To my left is a well stocked gift shop with gadgets, books and toys to temp every budget, whilst in front of me a modern staircase leads up into the main gallery. I should also mention that each side of the staircase are smaller dedicated galleries, with a fun slide on the right which I am sure the kids will love. A lift is also situated in this space.
Reaching the top of the main staircase the hall opens out high and wide, right up to the roof. Around me are surprisingly large steam locomotives and the Emperor’s Imperial railway carriage. Just off my left shoulder is a flashy Formula 1 racing car. The left side and centre of this gallery focuses on steam power, metal forging and the development of such technology. It cleverly shows how a steam engine works and even has a mock-up train for younger visitors to shovel coal into. One of the many hands-on experiences dotted around the museum. These go a long way to appease the no-touching signs on the larger static exhibits.
Moving through time I am led across to a multi-level and contrastingly modern gallery focused on Artificial Intelligence and robots. Inside are exhibits on voice command, touch screens, remote control, data input, voice control, and gesture control, all with hands-on installations. As I wander past I come to the right side of the gallery where power generation and its variations are explored.
As with the rest of the museum, the lighting is good, the galleries clean and odourless, with seating areas provided and toilets on every floor. The high ceilings enhance the feeling of space despite some impressively large exhibits, although the sound level in the museum is rather on the louder side, especially in the café. Perhaps due to the high ceilings and the open plan floors which all lead into the main gallery.
Behind the main staircase I find the museum‘s “Joules Bistro” café / restaurant, again the staff are friendly, with the standard assortment of snacks and refreshments on offer, as well as soups, burgers and of course Wiener Schnitzel. Time for a quick slice of Sachertorte and a Kleiner Schwarzer.
Moving up to the next floor I am greeted by a gallery focused on the development of household appliances and products. The toilet and vintage public urinal exhibition is actually interesting although the connecting section on waste and recycling was a too dimly lit. A particularly poignant exhibit remembers Vienna‘s dark moment in history and the Jewish property seized by the Gestapo and auctioned off. This floor is capped by a section on the fire brigade which compliment the indoor playground featuring a fire engine. Captions for all exhibits are written in both German and English.
When reaching the third and top floor I am rewarded by a gallery on transport, with aircraft suspended from the roof and a bright yellow air ambulance helicopter glaring down before me. The gallery explores flight and space, with a spacesuit and a suspended hot air balloon basket experience that compliments the virtual cable car ride experience. This then leads around into an exhibition on cars, motorcycles, and bicycles, as well river transport. And I must say, considering its mixed and varied inventory, the museum does a great job of transitioning between exhibitions.
At the other end of the floor your attention is turned to media technology, moving you from the humble printing press to typing machines, cameras, and music players, then on to photojournalism and television, which concludes with arguably the best hands-on experience in the museum. The TV news studio where you can become an instant news reader. Great fun regardless of whether you are young or just young at heart. To decide on a favourite exhibit in such a diverse museum is indeed a difficult choice, but if I was pushed perhaps, it is the rare Second World War German Enigma machine, or maybe the large locomotive engine from the start of my tour, or the wooden propeller construction process, or …
Visiting mid-week in summer the museum is buzzing, but I am sure on weekends or bank holidays it gets really busy. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Vienna Technical Museum and more so with the ease of getting there. An afternoon is adequate, especially with family in tow, but I would suggest planning a day to fully appreciate what it has to offer. Not least to read all the captions!
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Olivier C Dorrell is the author of British Officer’s Peak Caps of the Second World War (Schiffer Books, 2014) and is the Webmaster of the Worcestershire Militaria Museum, virtual museum. He is interested in art and history, military history in particular, and is a keen visitor and supporter of museums and the unique experiences they offer.