The ads for the phaeno in Wolfsburg say „You’re going to be surprised“. Why it raised my hair and why I was indeed surprised I’m going to tell you in a little bit
It is Saturday morning and we get on the train to Wolfsburg. The train travels from Berlin to Wolfsburg, to where the Phaeno is, in just under 60 minutes. The unusual building with its unique exhibition is right next to the train station. The exhibition is not only fascinating for kids, but it is also a science centre for all ages.
The noteworthy architecture of the phaeno
Our tour begins with a walk around the phaeno building. What an unusual construction. It reminds me of a spaceship.
Zaha Hadid (1950 – 2016) came up with the building’s design that got awarded the contract in an international competition. She was one innovative architect and was honoured with the most important award for architects, the Pritzker Award, in 2004 as the first woman ever. The Center of Contemporary Art in Cincinnati and the Bergisel ski jump were built after her designs.
After four years of construction, the phaeno was opened in November 2005.
The building is carried by ten conic pillars (cones or columns for me as a layperson). They were made from self-compressing concrete, a material that was used for the first time in Germany. The concrete was poured into a wooden casing, shaking the air out was not necessary. This made it possible to construct walls with steep angles and curved shapes. A steel roof rests on the cones. It is a special design. The beams are not parallel so that each junction became unique and every diamond-shaped segment is different. There are only a few contact points which give the interior a wonderfully open layout.
The museum has an outdoor section with an exhibition area and an open patio underneath it. This breaks up the massive structure of the building even more and is ideal to be used as additional space for exhibitions.
More room for exhibitions is also inside the cones. Inside are for example a scientific theatre or, in the outdoors area, space for experiments.
I was fascinated by the interior. A bright and open room with additional floors with flowing transitions that feel like waves. The room itself is an experience.
What to expect as a visitor to the phaeno?
The phaeno is a science centre. The word “museum” is not quite the right term to describe it. Getting active, testing things and exploring is the focus of the centre.
We take the escalator to the upper floor and my inner child rejoices. In different sections, there are over 350 interesting experiments and exhibits about mechanics, optics, life, maths and investigative skills. The best part is that visitors are allowed to try everything for themselves to get their heads wrapped around the new knowledge. Who said, “I know that I don’t know anything”? I believe Socrates would have had immense fun at the phaeno. And I know that my teachers back in school could have made me understand some phenomenon quite a bit better through this exhibition.
The variety of exhibits is so huge that I am only going to introduce a few.
In the maths area, for example, I got to work with shapes and colours.
It was a figuratively hair-raising experience to touch an electric ball. I was surprised that I was able to feel the electric current everywhere in my body. Even the tiniest hairs on my arm were electrified.
The kids that I saw at this station had just as much fun as I had. It was great that a member of staff was present to explain what was happening as we did the experiment. That enabled us to get much more out of the experience.
I saw how a tornado forms. There is an hourly show in which a huge fire tornado is created. A really impressive tower of flames that gets formed. At a different station for experiments, we got to create our own tornado (wind). By moving glass panes around we changed the amount of wind in the container and the circulation until a tornado appeared.
Creating a topographic map of my face was really funny. Contour lines created a grid on my face. It looked really freaky and reminded me of aliens.
The maglev train was also interesting. With the help of liquid nitrogen and magnets, a staff member made some sheets of glass levitate and me gape.
There is one special show once per day. We got to see “Best of Show” with mind baffling experiments involving smoke, fire and loud bangs.
To enjoy some art on top of all of this all one needs to do is have a good look around the phaeno. International artists created special pieces for the exhibition that revolve around the relationship between art and science. High above the visitor's heads, for example, is “The Ring” by Trimpin. The movement of rolling balls in their tracks perfectly mirrors the ratio of the planet years of venus, earth and mars.
Special exhibition time
In a designated area of the building regular special exhibitions take place. At the time of our visit, the special exhibition was about time. We approached the concept of time through various experiments.
I was particularly fascinated by the concept of stretched time that allows watching a drop of water fall. Using a camera and different speeds produced astonishing pictures.
There were so many aspects of time that the experiments dealt with so that we spend a good long while around them without realising how time flies!
Our last stop was the time lab. In the lab, we were able to build our own hourglasses and create pictures from sand. This way we got to see the time slowly fall grain by grain.
Summer programme 2018: Hitting rocks
We visited the phaeno during the school summer break 2018. All visitors had the option to go on a quest to find fossils in the outside area.
Of course, I had to try that, too. Equipped with googles, hammer and chisel (I gave the gloves a miss) I hit rock after rock after rock.
It is a bit tiresome to unearth a fossil especially for the impatient or when one isn’t entirely certain how to recognize a fossil in the first place. That is where the super friendly staff member in the fossil lab came in and explained to me what is important when looking for fossils. And even if one isn’t successful in finding a fossil in the rocks it’s no reason to be sad. With the fossil-shaped moulds and a little plaster, everyone can make their own fossils to take home.
We had a glorious and exciting day in the phaeno in Wolfsburg. It was an ideal spot for me to get in touch with science and have fun in the process. No matter what age, everyone can discover something new.
Opening Hours (2018):
Tuesday to Friday: 09.00 – 17.00
Saturday, Sunday, Bank Holidays: 10.00 – 18.00
Monday, 24.12., 31.12.: closed
During the summer break in Lower Saxony, the phaeno is open daily between 10.00 and 18.00.
Day Pass (multiple entries on one day within the opening hours)
Children (6 – 17 years): 9€
Discounts and family tickets are available. Additionally, there are annual passes available that pay off after only three visits!
The phaeno is accessible!