Close-up of a highly detailed model ship with raised sails.


Come experience the fascination of sea travel at the Deutsches Technikmuseum’s exhibition “Lifeworld Ship.” You’ll be amazed at the close relationship between people and boats, between cultural developments and the history of seafaring, and by humankind’s desire to literally expand its horizons.

The Cultural History of Shipping

Visitors to the Shipping exhibition are welcomed by Captain Nemo on an imaginary set of his submarine, the Nautilus. The mariner from Jules Verne’s novel 20,000 Leagues under the Sea talks about the nature of water, the oceans, and dangers at sea. And he tells myths – about sea monsters and figureheads, the decorative sculptures at the prows of ships. Many sailors believed the soul of the ship resided in the figurehead. Any damage it sustained was considered a bad omen.

A view of the Shipping exhibition. There is a wooden figurehead in the middle of the room. Rows of small light boxes line both sides of the room. In the background, a display case containing a model ship can be seen.
Figureheads were thought to protect sailors from evil spirits and the wrath of the gods. The exhibition relates some of the many legends and stories of the seas and seafaring.
SDTB / H. Hattendorf

What it was like to live on board a ship is reflected in countless stories, myths, symbols, and aphorisms dealing with the interaction between people, boats, and the sea. More than 1,100 objects, dived into 30 thematic exhibits and spread across 6,500 square meters of exhibition space on three levels, provide insight into the history of deep-sea and inland navigation. This is one of the world’s largest exhibitions devoted to ships and boats.

From the Leather Boat to the Aircraft Carrier

A display case with historical globes on blue stands. Behind it there is a large black-and-white image.
How do sailors get their bearings at sea? The exhibition shows how navigation on the high seas worked long before satellite technology and GPS.
SDTB / C. Kirchner

The heart of the exhibition is devoted to deep-sea navigation. It starts with the chronologically structured exhibit “Ships and History.” Fifty-two model ships (scale 1:50) show developments in size and shape over the last 10,000 years – from the leather boat to the aircraft carrier. Other exhibits focus on a wide variety of themes relating to deep-sea ships. Five alone are devoted to the history of seafaring and different types of navigation: from rudimentary navigation devices to modern GPS.

Without advances in navigation devices, the voyages of discovery undertaken by Portugal and Spain around the year 1500 would not have been possible. These voyages in turn changed navigation techniques and ship design, gave way to a new conception of the world, and established a new balance of power on the high seas. The exhibition is rounded out with sections on sea rescue, whaling, and the production of sails and rigging.

We are currently working on a new presentation of the Berlin-Brandenburg slave trade. By the way of an artistic performance, we deconstructed a former exhibit on the topic in collaboration with civil society organizations. The performance can be watched in the exhibition.

How Does a Ship Behave in Water?

A woman and a young boy sit on opposite sides of a sailboat mast with raised sails. They are each holding a rope and tying knots.
Museum visitors can learn how to set a sail and tie knots.
SDTB / F. Grosse

For thousands of years, shipbuilding and its many challenges remained the province of purely experiential knowledge. Only in the 18th century did mathematics start playing a role in ship design. Visitors to the exhibition will discover what forces act upon the hull and how ships move through the water. They can even try their hand at setting a sail and tying nautical knots.


Inland Navigation between the Elbe and Oder

The ground floor begins with an exhibit on “Water Sports in and around Berlin” featuring many original sailboats, rowboats, and motorboats. After that comes “Inland Navigation between the Elbe and Oder.” Shipping on the many waterways around Berlin provided an indispensable foundation for the city’s development, with so-called Kaffe barges transporting large quantities of building materials from outlying areas. Locks and boat lifts made it possible for boats to overcome differences in elevation both small and large, and thus to smoothly continue their journey on the network of rivers and canals. Historic models are also on display that once belonged to the Institute and Museum of Oceanography and the Transport and Civil Engineering Museum (both now defunct).

A small, historical steamboat in the Shipping exhibition. There are several people standing on its foredeck. “SB2-804” and “Kurt-Heinz” are written on the side of the boat.
The steam tug and towboat KURT HEINZ was active on Berlin’s waterways until 1997. The skipper’s family lived in the front cabin. The machinist, who operated the steam engine, slept in the aft cabin.
SDTB / C. Kirchner


Der Humboldt-Chronometer ist eine Taschenuhr mit weißem Zifferblatt. Die Uhr wird stehend in ihrer Holzschatulle gezeigt.
SDTB / C. Kirchner

Pocket chronometer used by Alexander von Humboldt

The king of Denmark gave Alexander von Humboldt this precision timepiece in 1830. For a while it was kept in the Berlin observatory, as Humboldt noted on the top of its mahogany box. Alexander von Humboldt made a journey to the Americas in 1799, thus ushering in a new era of research voyages using state-of-the-art scientific instruments.

Johann Heinrich Kessels, 1828


Der Kaffenkahn ist ein hölzernes Schiff, dessen Bodenplanken bis zur Wasserlinie aufgebogen sind. Am Heck des schlanken Kahns sind das Ruder und die Pinne zu erkennen.
SDTB / C. Kirchner

Kaffe barge

As the saying goes, “Barges built Berlin.” Berlin owes its development to the many surrounding waterways, on which large quantities of building materials were shipped to the city. This Kaffe barge, salvaged from the Havel River, dates to about 1840. It was loaded with roof tiles when it sank. It is the largest object in the exhibition.

ca. 1840

Der Nachbau des Dreimasters Creole im Maßstab 1:50 ist aus Holz gebaut. Das Modell ist circa 80 Zentimeter lang und 20 Zentimeter hoch.
SDTB / C. Kirchner

Model of the Glattdeckskorvette CREOLE (1826)

A (sailing) corvette was a three-masted, full-rigged warship smaller than a frigate. The Glattdeckskorvette CREOLE had only small structures at the bow and stern instead of a forecastle and poop deck. These fast ships were mostly used for reconnaissance. The model of the CREOLE is built to a scale of 1:50.

Michael Keyser, 2003

Das Modell das Schiffshebewerks Niederfinow ist drei Meter lang und gut 1,20 Meter hoch. Es bildet das Original im Maßstab 1:20 ab. Die Verstrebungen, die das Gerüst des Hebewerks bilden, ähneln dem Gerippe eines Krans.
SDTB / C. Kirchner

Model of the Niederfinow Boat Lift

Locks, inclined planes, and boat lifts make it possible for boats to overcome differences in elevation between sections of a canal. At the boat lift in Niederfinow, a 36-meter elevation difference is overcome in five minutes. This brass model (scale 1:50) will show you how it functions. It took 20 years of work at the museum, most of it done by volunteers, to finish the model of the Niederfinow Boat Lift.

Rudolph, Lambrecht, Masella, Tannenberg, 2014