Germany has always had its fair share of inventors, tinkerers and other resourceful enthusiasts. And their discoveries have conquered the world. From aspirin and airbags to garden gnomes and the Christmas tree, many of the things that make our life easier, safer or just nicer started life in Germany. Follow in the footsteps of great engineers and enterprising visionaries, all the way up to the present.
Back in 1840, Friedrich Fröbel campaigned for the right of young people to have a complete education. The pastor's son subsequently founded a 'games and activity institute' in the Thuringia town of Blankenburg, which he later renamed a 'kindergarten'. The concept has become established all over the world. Today, the world's first kindergarten is home to the Friedrich Fröbel Museum, which features an exhibition on the life and work of the pioneering pedagogue.
The dream of flying is as old as humanity itself – and Otto Lilienthal was the first person to fulfil this dream. Using a hang-glider he had built himself, the aviation pioneer was able to fly a distance of 250 metres. His successful flying attempts in the late 19th century led – a mere ten years later – to the realisation of engine-powered flight by the Wright brothers. The Otto Lilienthal Museum in the aviator's birthplace of Anklam presents eight replicas of his first flying machines. It is also home to a hands-on experiment zone and the Dream of Flight exhibition, which features all manner of inspired aircraft.
At the Leipzig Exhibition of 1884, a terracotta company from Gräfenroda showcased a new product: the everyday garden gnome. In the baroque era, these small statues had been used solely to decorate the gardens of the wealthy, but it was August Heissner and Philipp Griebel who first mass-produced them. Since then, their factory on the fringes of the Thuringian Forest has been considered the 'birthplace of the garden gnome'. The little men with their white beards and red woolly hats are now being produced by the fourth generation of the family. A museum documents the fascinating success story of these figurines.
Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg, a former apprentice to a cabinet maker from the Harz, secretly made his first grand piano in his kitchen in 1836. A few years later, in Seesen, he founded one of Germany's first piano factories to have long-term success and built the world's first grand piano. He emigrated to the United States in 1850 and became the most famous piano maker of all time under the name of Henry E. Steinway. His eldest son Theodor continued to run the business in Germany. The company headquarters have since moved to Braunschweig .
In 1941 Konrad Zuse developed and built the Z3, the world's first functioning computer, and from 1949, computers were being manufactured in Hessen. Many original models are on display today at the Konrad Zuse Museum in Hünfeld. You can also marvel at an original Zuse computer, the Z 22 R from 1959, at the wortreich interactive museum in Bad Hersfeld.
Whether you are using your mobile phone or you are out shopping – smart cards are found everywhere. This invention is thanks to German radio engineer Jürgen Dethloff who, together with Helmut Gröttrup, devised the idea of the small storage card in 1969. An exhibition at the communications department of the Deutsches Museum in Munich explains how microchips have changed the world and are used in everyday life.
Johannes Gutenberg, who was born in Mainz in around 1400, was celebrated as the 'man of the millennium' and deservedly so: he invented the printing press with moveable type, which made the mass production of books possible and gave rise to a media revolution in Europe. Today, two original copies of the Gutenberg Bible from 1452/54 are on display at the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz . Visitors can look round a reconstruction of Gutenberg's workshop and even try their hand at using the printing press.
In Mannheim and Bad Cannstatt, two inventors worked almost simultaneously on an invention that would revolutionise how people travel. In 1883 Gottlieb Daimler pioneered the first high-speed, lightweight universal engine in Bad Cannstatt. And in 1886, Carl Benz was granted the patent for the first roadworthy motor car in Mannheim. The success story of the car started with these two pioneers, and still today, Baden-Württemberg is closely associated with car manufacturing.