Berlin exhibitions

I started looking through the huge collection of photos from the Tyrrell and realised that I’d never finished covering all of the Berlin Museum that I started back at the end of Jan. I really don’t want to leave that hanging on till after we’ve trawled through huge amounts of the Tyrrell, so it’s time to try and polish them off. I had planned to spin these out a bit, but with plenty more pressing, I’ll have to keep it down. If you want more, I guess you’ll just have to go and visit.

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Much of the museum has been renovated and updated in relatively recent years and this was my first visit since the big update of the dinosaur hall in 2007. There are some lovely new displays and cabinets and in particular, some great little pieces that demonstrate key features of biology or evolution. Above we have a diversity wall, an increasingly common introduction to biology halls, something like this is present in many museums. Still, it is wonderfully done and well-lit and there is a lot to take in.

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This case is a great one about convergence, but sadly was hard to photograph so doesn’t really show it off well. As you can see, there’s a variety of aquatic vertebrates here, both extant and extinct, and the text explains the convergences in form of both body shape and fins / flippers etc. Each skeleton is apparently backed in black, but the other side shows the ‘fleshed’ out forms, with taxidermy skins for the extant animals, and well-made models for the extinct ones.

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And on the subject of taxidermy, here’s a great series of displays on the construction of museum-quality exhibits, covering all the issues of drawings, sculpture, skin preparation and the rest. While many places discuss casting and mounting skeletons, model making and the like, I can’t think of another set-up I’ve seen covering this aspect of curation. I suspect the reason may be a bit of anticipated squeamishness on behalf of the public, museums won’t want to draw attention to the killing and skinning of animals, even if it was done decades, even centuries ago, but it shouldn’t be ignored and this is a hell of a skill and should be celebrated.

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Though here is that almost inevitable (but again, very well done) case on casting and replicating materials, and for once not just dinosaur bones but other hard pieces and even a mounted fish. Again, clearly laid out, but concise, and well thought out.

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This one was really impressive: so simple and so effective. We have a nice relief map of New Guinea, with various skins of birds of paradise laid out, and then a map to show how the different barriers (mountains etc.) have led to reproductive isolation and the development of the different species and subspecies. It ties together wonderfully easily and it’s quite clear how they are all similar, but still different. A wonderful example of biogeography and evolution and presented very simply and clearly.

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And finally yes, some fossils. This is part of the Solnhofen display and does a nice job of showing off a lot of material, but without it being too crowded. It gets across the real diversity of species there and indeed the different modes of preservation (there’s some 3D bits in there).

Overall, the new material is really pretty good. There are some niggles and inevitably compromises, but there’s an awful lot of material to see and it’s well displayed. While I do really like exhibits and cabinets that show off the mechanics of museums as it were, these are especially good here and there’s a lot to be gained from them, and in particular how compact many of them are. And of course, really quite a few big dinosaurs as well.


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