My Fiat 500X diesel stubbornly refuses to hit 200 kph. It’s just sitting there at 197. I might as well be standing still. The way the Audi S8 passes me I might as well be. Oddly, it doesn’t feel like I’m going 122 mph. The engine doesn’t sound strained, the car feels stable, and the smooth Autobahn makes for a more relaxing cruise than most roads at home. So like that I crank up the tunes (Kraftwerk, of course), and let the sat-nav guide me towards an absolutely incredible museum tucked away on the western edge of Germany.
The Technik Museum Speyer is one of the best museums I’ve ever visited, and I’ve visited plenty. There’s a stripped-out 747 you can explore, an An-22 cargo plane, and several Soviet or Russian helicopters. There’s also a huge rescue ship, a tiny submarine, dozens of cars and even a few trains.
The most amazing thing, however, is an actual Soviet space shuttle! One of the only Burans still in existence, this is definitely the star of my visit and was a huge thrill to see in person. Here are a lot of photos of that and the rest of this fantastic museum.
OK, so technically you can take the train to the town of Speyer and then make your way to the museum. But if you’re interested in a museum like this I’m guessing you’re interested in cars — why not rent one and take the opportunity to partake in Germany’s fabled Autobahns? It’s visceral fun. Speyer is about an hour south of Frankfurt. Less, depending on your driving.
It’s hard to miss the museum when you approach. Its ex-Lufthansa 747 is perched high off the ground. If you missed seeing the supports you’d think it had just taken off. This is a hint at the overall style of the museum. There are a few buildings housing a variety of vehicles, but most of the aircraft are outside and many are canted at odd angles far above the ground. In situ, if you will. This display method offers excellent views of all angles, but walking around inside isn’t for those with equilibrium issues.
Upon entering I head straight for the Buran. Not my sole reason for visiting, but a big part. Also, despite my schnelle geshewindigkeit getting down here, some surprisingly un-German inefficiency meant it took 90 minutes to get my rental car. I felt rushed and this museum is huge. I didn’t want to miss what to me was the star attraction.
More on the Buran in a moment. Having flown on many 747s, I didn’t think this older -200 would be much of a draw, but I was wrong. The interior is mostly stripped out, letting you see the structure of the plane itself, and even walk in the cargo compartment. That’s certainly not something you normally see.
The 747 doesn’t even seem that big compared to the nearby Antonov An-22, a bulbous monster with contrarotating propellers and a twin tail. It’s the largest mass-produced turboprop aircraft and it is not subtle.
And if that weren’t enough for this museum, there’s a German Maritime Search and Rescue Service (DGzRS) ship and a U9 submarine. The U9 is quite an odd sub. Small for its era, small even compared to WWII U-boats, it still housed a crew of 22 and with eight forward-firing torpedo tubes.
There are also Porsches, BMWs, Mercedes, VWs and even an Aston, Opel and NSU. Oh, and some trains thrown in for good measure. Well, perhaps not “thrown.”
Work on the Buran began in the mid-70’s as an answer to the US. Visually it’s almost identical, a sort of off-brand space plane. While often mocked for being a blatant rip-off of the American design (NASA’s designs were public, mind you), it was actually rather different.
Instead of integral main engines, the Buran left the heavy lifting entirely to the massively powerful Energia rocket. This meant it was lighter and able to carry more payload to orbit. It even had several features the Shuttle either lacked or would only get in later years, like ejection seats for the whole crew and the ability to land by itself. This Buran, OK-GLI, was a test vehicle, and could actually fly in atmosphere (as opposed to just glide).
Few Burans were built, and only one ever made it to space, and then just on an unmanned test flight. That Buran was destroyed when its hangar collapsed in 2002.
The museum has done an excellent job letting you get any view you want of this incredibly rare and historic spacecraft. Balconies all around, and a walkway gets you right into the cargo bay, with a tantalizing glimpse into the cockpit. If you go around back, eyeing the four seemingly out of place turbofans, you can get a look inside at some of the incredible nest of wiring this craft had.
Meer zum Weltraum
Expect to spend a full day. It will be worth it. As someone who loves all kinds of vehicles, this museum ticked all the boxes for me. Some cool planes, some cool cars, a few trains and the Soviet space shuttle, which is definitely something I’d never expected to see in person.
Adults are 16 euros, which is about $18, £14 or AU$26, and it’s open every day. It closes pretty early though, at 6 p.m., 7 p.m. on weekends. Or for now, there are a bunch of photos to check out in the gallery above. If you’re on Instagram, I made a Story of my visit with some different angles and some short videos.
Technik Museum Speyer has a sister museum in nearby Sinsheim with even more incredible sights (a Tu-144!). But that will have wait for another time. I need to get my rental back to Frankfurt, and the Autobahn awaits.
As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does these tours of cool museums and locations around the world including nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriers, medieval castles, airplane graveyards and more.
You can follow his exploits on Twitter, Instagram and on his travel blog BaldNomad. He also wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel.