the Dynamikum Science Center: A hands-on experience for all ages

Story and photos by A.L. Shaff
Contributing writer

In a magical place just 30 minutes south of Kaiserslautern, balls fly in strange ways, kids use their minds to out-think their parents and levers flip to make gears spin. Though the kids think they’re just playing, in reality, they’re learning about the universal forces that surround them.

This place, called Dynamikum Science Center, exists in a renovated shoe factory in Pirmasens not far from the downtown train station.

Once the Rheinberger factory shipped as many as 5,000 pairs of shoes every day, but it now hosts a two-story museum dedicated to children discovering their world through touching, moving and playing with interactive “experiments.”

For example, they can race an elephant, an alligator, a turtle or even a protozoa to understand concepts of gravity, speed and movement. In a dark room, the animal appears on a wall to challenge a child to step to the line, count off then dash to the finish as the animal races on the giant wall. Then the animal’s animated voice speaks. An elephant might drone, “Oh, I guess I’m not very fast!”

All displays and experiments allow hands-on interaction, such as the bicycle hovercraft, which requires children to pedal fast to create airflow that raises the craft and moves it across the floor.

In one part of the museum, a virtual forest presents displays with a school semester’s worth of science lessons carefully, sometimes comically, delivered through multimedia formats in English, German and French.

Richard Taylor, an American contractor working out of Ramstein, and his wife Yvette brought their four children on a recent Sunday.

“We kind of got lost on a Sunday drive,” Mrs. Taylor said. “Then I remembered reading about this place. I’m so impressed with the way they let kids get their hands on everything. It’s such a family-oriented place that makes the kids forget that they’re supposed to learn something at every station.”

In fact, the floor paths, the walls and the experiments all allow easy understanding – in vibrant reds and blues and hues of oranges and greens.

Young guides stand ready to talk with the children in several languages and hold “special experiment” demonstrations that pull responses from the children (and the accompanying adults.)

During one “experiment” involving the perceptions and misperceptions of motion,
children climb into a little house that spins on its axis, but those in the structure feel as if they are spinning while the house remains level.

As children end their museum visit after several hours, a special treat allows them to jump onto a two-story slide and beat their parents down to the start.

A snack bar provides sandwiches, cool drinks, pretzels and treats, but the beautiful park with a manmade lake next to the museum invites families to picnic in nature as a culmination of a wonderful experience. A small museum gift shop sells take-home experiments and puzzles to add to the day’s enjoyment.

Admission costs €8.50 for adults and €7 for children, but special prices exist for seniors, handicapped and military personnel. Children 5 and under get in for free.
Ramps and elevators aid the handicapped and parents with children in strollers. The museum remains open every day of the year except Christmas and New Year’s.