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Germany and speed: An exhibition on a special relationship

July 29, 2023

The need for speed has endured since the dawn of mankind. The exhibition "Tempo. Tempo! Tempo?" explores man's relationship with velocity — in all its forms.

Picture of an old fashioned motorbike encased in a metallic body.
Humans have always yearned to go faster, on foot and wheelsImage: Spieker Fotografie/Florian Spieker

Germany is synonymous with speed . From autobahns to automats (vending machines), Germans have no time to waste.

Even the language tells you they don't have time for excess: Verschlimmbesserung (which is when you try to improve something, with good intentions, but actually end up making it worse). Why use 16 words when one will do?

And in 1886 when Carl Benz applied for a patent for his "vehicle powered by a gas engine," the German entrepreneur began a reputation that has only gathered pace since, with almost one million people employed within the car industry across Europe's largest economy.

Now, in all its forms, the concept of speed — or "tempo" in the German language — is being expanded upon via artworks in exhibitions running concurrently under the title "Tempo. Tempo! Tempo?" across three museums in central Germany.

Speeding on German autobahns

Three is the magic number

The perspectives are showcased through three different lenses at a contemporary art museum, a historical museum and a technical museum respectively, with each presenting overlapping, individual exhibitions on the topic of speed.

The exhibition was one year in the making, the spokesperson for the PS. Speicher Museum in Einbeck, Stephan Richter, told DW.

"The inspiration came between the CEO of our museum — Lothar Meyer-Mertel — and the manager of the museum in Hannover — Professor Doctor Katja Lembke," Richter says. "The two of them wanted to do an exhibition together, and with a third museum. Each museum looks at the topic of speed from their specific point of view. In PS Speicher we look at it from the technological side, the Kunst Museum in Derneburg from the art point of view, and the museum in Hannover from the viewpoint of archaeology and ethnology, with the history of speed and what it has meant for mankind."

Picture of an old locomotive that used to power trains.
A locomotive on display, which provided the power for a trainImage: Spieker Fotografie/Florian Spieker

Even the title has three viewpoints at its heart, with the use of the full stop, the exclamation mark and the question mark, illustrating the different angles of the exhibition, Richter explains.

Human evolution and art also focal points

Across the trilogy of exhibitions, speed is explored from both outside and inside the box. Meaning, cars and motorbikes, of course. A hare too. But also in art form, looking at evolutionary theory and new media, as the race from A to B shows no signs of easing up.

The Art Museum in the Derneburg Castle, for instance, is presenting contemporary works by artists in the fields of sculpture, painting, installation and new media, who explore the concept of speed from angles such as evolutionary theory and technology.

The Landesmuseum in Hannover, meanwhile, looks at speed from a perspective of natural and cultural history. Finally, the exhibition in Einbeck focuses mainly on technical aspects of speed.

Upon arrival in Einbeck, you are struck immediately by the "eye-catching" Lockheed F-104 Starfighter jet from the United States, which had the capability to reach twice the speed of sound.

Picture of the front half of a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter jet.
The jet at the entrance of the Derneburg exhibition is on loan from a museum in BavariaImage: Spieker Fotografie/Florian Spieker

Also on display is a Bugatti Veyron which in 2010 set a land speed record of 431, 072 km per hour (268 mph).

TEMPO. TEMPO! TEMPO? exhibition featuring a Bugatti Veyron
The Bugatti Veyron set the land speed record at the Volkswagen track near WolfsburgImage: Spieker Fotografie/Florian Spieker

First ever speeding ticket

The German theme is apparent throughout the museum with the more obvious examples of a Volkswagen Nardo and a BMW motorcycle, to the more surprising example of what is believed to be the first speeding ticket issued in Germany.

"It's just a piece of paper," Richter explains. "But it's the oldest traffic ticket in Germany, a warning about speed from 1894. You can see it in our exhibition for the first time. In those days, there were no street signs or ways of measuring speed. But the vehicle drove nearly 30 kilometers per hour, so not really fast. But the story goes that it drove nearby a restaurant and caused the curtains to flutter, indicating that it was going too fast."

TEMPO. TEMPO! TEMPO? exhibition in Derneburg
This warning came after a vehicle breezed through a town at almost 30 kilometers per hourImage: Spieker Fotografie/Florian Spieker

Not just a German affair

But the exhibitions are not exclusively about Germany's relationship with speed. Pictures of highways in California, artwork from Bahrain, a Shuttle Ejection Escape Suit from NASA, and a kangaroo from Australia, are all prominent features across the trio of displays, with even a reindeer sleigh from Lapland on display.

TEMPO. TEMPO! TEMPO? exhibition
The suit was used only for the first four NASA Space Shuttle missions and was designed to protect astronauts in the event of ejectionImage: Spieker Fotografie/Florian Spieker

Tempo. Tempo! Tempo? began in June and will run through February 4, 2024, in Hannover, Derneburg and Einbeck, all located within the state of Lower Saxony.

John Silk Editor and writer for English news, as well as the Culture and Asia Desks.@JSilk