Wolfsburg is a town situated just over an hour or so on the train from Berlin and is renowned as being the home of Volkswagen – and indeed was really built up around the car factory.
Whilst that might not strike you as a good enough reason to venture out for a visit, the town’s science centre – one of the finest around, is. Phaeno is an extraordinary place that helps to remind us about what an incredible thing it is to live on planet Earth, surrounded, as it were, by remarkable ‘phenomena’ (hence ‘phaeno’ – a spin on the German word for phenomena).
The incredible, space-aged looking building sets the tone for the amazing things you’re about to see: balls that roll uphill, objects that move under the influence of your brainwaves and other whizz-bang stuff that is all part of the package.
Much of the centre’s exhibits (experiments) rely on interaction with visitors and the real trick that Phaeno pulls off here is to exploit childlike awe and wonder without actually becoming, ‘childish’ or just presenting science in toy form.
One of the great things about Phaeno, which is utterly accessible and complete with excellent facilities, is that it’s difficult to plot a chart through the experiments without getting caught in the snare of more science and more eureka moments.
We’ve all had teachers that say that science is fun – but for most of us, it isn’t – discovery is fun, or satisfying or amazing or awe inspiring – watching science unravelling mysteries in front of us is fun – E=MC2 is not, it’s just a formula on a piece of paper.
To a certain extent, even the accessibility is thought out along similar values. A table top experiment that’s out of the reach of very small children is not placed on a low table; rather, there is a block for children to stand on. The gentle message here is to ‘step up’ and step in.
The entire design of Phaeno is such that everybody can discover the satisfaction of understanding something new. The building and different areas within it are all perfectly accessible and indeed the experiments are all very well thought-through and put together so that different needs are covered (regarding sensory and physical impairments).
I was, in some way, frustrated by not having one single, directed route, guaranteeing that I would ‘see’ all of the experiments. It’s clearly a deliberate policy that visitors are guided simply by their curiosity, usually triggered by a movement or sound. Perhaps then, in some ways, it’s the visitors and how they respond that is the real experiment here.
I finished my tour of Phaeno knowing a bit more about the world we live in and having had my eyes opened to the wonders I simply walk past every day.
Just next to Phaeno is the Wolfsburg designer outlet shopping ‘village’. This is an ongoing development designed to give people another compelling reason to visit Wolfsburg. The designer outlet hosts stores for top fashion, sports and homewares brands and offers discounts of up to 70%.
The designer outlet is spaciously laid out because all of the shops are on one level it makes for a convenient and easy stroll through the bargains. Many of the shops have huge open side entrances and of course there are several accessible facilities.
Over the (accessible bridge) lies the Autostadt, Volkswagen’s museum/exhibition – giving me yet another good reason to return to Wolfsburg.