See the sea – 10 years of the OZEANEUM in Stralsund

Exhibitions and aquariums exploring northern marine life

Bühnentechnische Rundschau

The OZEANEUM in the Hanseatic city of Stralsund on the north German coast is a place to look, learn and be amazed, now celebrating its 10th anniversary. Showcasing the sea in all its fragile and monstrous glory, the centre has welcomed over six million visitors since it opened and was declared European Museum of the Year in 2010. But it does more than look back - its aquariums reflect the contemporary state of the diverse and precious life in the sea.


Shining white against the sky, the curved façade of the OZEANEUM in Stralsund towers high over the main entrance – like a giant sail or the prow of a ship. The centre has been welcoming visitors on Stralsund’s harbour island for ten years now. Built at a cost of 60 million Euros, it received unprecedented media attention in Germany when it opened in July 2008 and has remained a special attraction in the Hanseatic city ever since. 

Visitors can walk round the entire complex, consisting of four, four-storey buildings, accessible on three sides and offering a range of different views. A total of 50 aquariums of various sizes are contained in two of the buildings. Unlike in most museums, light is avoided here, as most of the aquarium inhabitants prefer the dark. The only part of the OZEANEUM that is flooded with light is the glass foyer, which connects the four buildings via stairs, bridges and lifts crossing all four floors. The OZEANEUM rests on a reed-coloured base where all its complex technology is housed, as well as research laboratories and huge water-treatment tanks.

Amazing sights in the light and the dark

The OZEANEUM offers five permanent exhibitions and two aquarium tours. Its thematic focus is the seas of the northern hemisphere, and especially the Baltic Sea.  Colour-coded guides on the floor lead visitors through the rooms and around the various floors and provide orientation amongst the abundance of showcases, models, information panels and individual exhibits. 

A ship as a biosphere

The OZEANEUM’s exhibitions and aquariums have been constantly extended since it opened, and this year was no exception. Just in time for the 10-year anniversary, the centre’s largest aquarium, the 2.6 million-litre ‘Open Atlantic’, was renovated and the original skeleton of a sperm whale removed to make way for the reconstruction of a cargo ship that sank in 1909.

At 11 metres long, almost six metres high and some five metres wide, a reconstruction of the wreck was designed and prepared by the art department at Babelsberg film studios (where film sets are usually made) and assembled in the OZEANEUM all in less than six months. The main challenge here was assembling the shipwreck in a relatively small space – the aquarium floor measures only 17 metres in diameter. Separated into numerous, narrow segments of maximum 2 to 3 metres’ length, the model of the wreck was lowered through narrow doors from the roof by a lift. All the parts were tempered before assembly. After a three-month renovation and reconstruction period, the OZENAEUM’s largest pool was ready to be refilled. 

Throughout the centre, the exhibition concept is designed to appeal to even the youngest visitors, with child-friendly videos and information panels in all areas. A section titled ‘A Sea for Children’ welcomes little ones to stay a while and play, ask questions and experiment.        

Save the whale!

The tour of the OZEANEUM’s exhibitions ends in a breathtakingly spectacular sight: Visitors leaving the exhibitions on each floor enter a hall some 20 m high where they come face-to face with the “1:1 giants of the sea”: models of a blue whale, a humpback whale, a sperm whale, a killer whale and a giant squid – all life-size and ranging from 5 to 24.5 metres long. Chief preparator Uwe Beese created this unique exhibition for the newly opened museum in close cooperation with the environmental protection organization Greenpeace. 

The life-size models needed to be as light as possible – they weigh between 150 kg and 8 tons – and meet fire safety regulations (there is no sprinkler system in the hall). Several combinations of material were submitted to the TÜV product safety authorities for approval. The approved materials then used include steel and GRP, polystyrene, PU foam, special filler for the skin, fiberglass matting and polyester resin. All are CFC-free on Greenpeace’s insistence. Steelworkers, sculptors and painters worked on these impressive models for a whole year. 

The high-ceilinged hall is bathed in a gentle, blue light; the ceiling shimmers lightly, like a watery surface. On the floor – on the bottom of the sea, so to speak – visitors can rest on loungers, surrounded by whale song and sound and light effects. Here, they can contemplate the beauty of these giant sea creatures, who are still very much endangered, as the audio-information stresses. It marks an overwhelming and moving end to the tour of the OZEANEUM which will surely leave no visitor cold.

BTR Ausgabe 6 2018
Rubrik: English texts, Seite 216
von Iris Abel

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