What’s it like to visit the Neanderthal Museum in Mettmann?
Are your kids interested in ancient human beings, tools from the Stone Age, mammoths, skeletons, and the like? Well then, a cool destination would be the Neanderthal Museum in the city of Mettmann, on the traces of one of the first human beings, the Neanderthal Man, whose skeletal remains were found here more than 160 years ago.
The museum has been totally reconceptualized since my childhood (I found it rather boring in the 1980s) and received the addition of an exciting, high climbing tower with a splendid view over the site of the detection of the ancient bone fragments and the surrounding forest and rocks. It offers interesting, educational exhibitions, including audio visuals, for young and old alike, being one of Europe’s most modern museums telling the story of humankind from start to present. I’m so glad we finally traveled here so Leander could see it, too.
Lyons Cub got to take a picture with his ancestors 😉
The building itself sports a cool architecture outside as well as inside. I enjoyed the staircase, the glass elevator, the aesthetically pleasing curved lines, and the perspective overall. My son enjoyed the explanations where on the map early humans had lived (while being watched by a Neanderthal standing on a bridge):
Lots of different displays show tools and weapons from ancient times of human history. At the check-in, you will receive an audio guide that tells you details about the exhibits (in English or in German). The little ones can plug their ear phones into special receptors to hear child-friendly explanations at their level. There are also black doors to open in order to detect certain artifacts behind them. What a thrill!
When you enter the ground floor, you are greeted by a group of scientifically reconstructed early humans from different periods. They all have different sizes, head shapes, and skin colors and carry the clothes and weapons or tools of their times:
This is the famous Lucy (she is not very tall), who received her name from the Beatles’ song, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” which was played during her excavation:
Many exhibits contain raw materials, tools, and weapons compared to how they were used back then versus how they are used nowadays.
Some were for touching (such as little samples of fur), and Lyons Cub tried them all out. Older kids could purchase an action pack at the check-in and try to make fire at prepared stations. One could walk under a red hanging station and look at media displays overhead to see artifacts from the early humans:
For kids who love skulls and bones, there’s surely a lot to see! Lyons Cub was intrigued by the skeletons and a human brain:
Leander also sat next to a little Neanderthal girl (who, sadly, didn’t seem very interested in him, or she was just shy).
Mommy got to stand next to a Neanderthal, who was dressed like a businessman and didn’t even really stick out much from the modern people:
Neanderthals, although more robust than modern humans and with much shorter limbs, were already very sophisticated, being able to make fire, build caves, weave and sew clothes, construct ships, and make medicines. In the museum, you can see a tent and different people preparing food from animals and making leather clothes. I liked the constellation of the wise, old grandpa teaching a rather unwilling, grumpy kid a lesson:
Luckily, my son got over the fact that cute animals got killed and understood they were for the nourishment of the people who lived back then. He was especially smitten with the little mammoth baby exhibited there. He had already seen a grown mammoth at a museum in the city of Munster two years ago.
In addition, there was an ox in the exhibit “Environment and Food”:
Some stations were rather pensive and invited the visitors to look at other human beings, like these two chairs opposite one another:
An hourglass reminded the visitors about how fleeting time is. Alas, a sign read, “Please don’t touch the sand” – Lyons Cub would have loved to play in the white sand! 🙂
A sad burial could be observed, too:
A beautiful glass wall contained dried leaves and plants:
Leander’s favorite activity was to dig in a sandbox for human remains. Evidently, even adults enjoyed this game 😉
Reaching the exit of the exhibition, we came past glass displays showing the population back then until now. It was very graphic; even little kids understand overpopulation:
Before we left the museum, Lyons Cub pressed a 5-cent coin into a memorial coin:
He already has a little treasure chest filled with flattened pennies from the various sights we visited in the past few years.
In front of the museum was a map that showed us further sights. Due to the lack of time and the great heat, we did not venture to the game reserve to see the animals. After all, Leander has seen many zoos and animal parks before. Instead, we decided to walk across the road to see the Stone Age playground first. It was really cool, with wooden spears as a climbing tower and a cave. There was a water-and-sand part and several shelters in the shade for the adults to rest their legs.
After having had a picnic at the playground, off we went to visit the Neander Valley tower, which has a skull as its roof. The path there through the forest with its audio learning stations about the history of this place was very enjoyable, including a rock wall where Lyons Cub climbed around a bit (alas, he got into the stinging nettles at the foot of the rock, itchy scratchy….). The wall bears a sign reading that it is displayed as memory of amateur naturalist Prof. Dr. C. Fuhlrott from Elberfeld, who found the Neanderthal Man in the summer of 1856. (Strictly speaking, workers of a limestone quarry had stumbled upon the human remains during the times of the industrialization of Germany. This is also the reason that only bone fragments were assembled by the scientist, because the miners had destroyed the skeleton in a cave with their tools and wouldn’t have known it was valuable to preserve). The rock wall serves as an example of what this area used to look like before most of the rocks were taken off due to this being a mining and excavating site.
Suddenly, the majestic tower stood before us, looking almost alike the Gasometer in Oberhausen we visited last year regarding its structure. What a sight! By the way, it’s not free to climb the tower. A turnstile secures the access to the tower for people with tickets.
You can get up the tower on the outer path with a stroller or wheelchair, and there’s a winding metal staircase in the center for those who want to train their legs 😉 We walked it down after having enjoyed the wonderful view, but we were not as crazy as taking the stairs in 30-degree weather… By the way, the top is air-conditioned! It was surprising. The greatest thing ever was to walk across the very well secured hanging bridge diagonally across the top! A sign said that it could bear 17 people… Who the heck is going to walk across it in a group… it was scary enough to do it alone!!! It reminded me a bit of the indoor playgrounds my son frequents in bad winter weather, only that it was much higher. You can’t fall off the sides, as it is all closed in. Thank goodness 😉 Mommy was more frightened than Lyons Cub.
The view down was a little scary. However, on top under the skull roof, the visitors were rewarded with an awesome view over the Neander Valley, saw an additional display of the bones found, and could watch little movies through the binoculars:
Then began the lengthy descent… Glad to feel the normal ground under our feet again after this dizzying experience!
After this great excitement, we finished off this eventful day with a nice dinner in the restaurant next to the Neander Valley museum, and Leander got his favorite meal, Schnitzel with noodles and parmesan. Yummy!
P.S.: The whole time, Leander thought we were in the Leanderthal, visiting the Leanderthal Man 😉
N – N – N Neanderthal!