The Hopper International
Picture this…you’re a pirate mercenary. The year is 1350 and you’ve been employed by the Queen of Denmark to secure trade routes throughout the North Sea. Your goal: wrestle control away from the Hanseatic League of coastal cities that monopolize sea trade in the region. After sinking some merchant ships that were carrying wool, resin, and wooden wares, you seek refuge in the seaside town of Bremerhaven.
Located on the North Sea coast of modern-day Germany, Bremerhaven is actually a detached portion of the Hanseatic city of Bremen. Oddly enough, you must travel approximately 45 minutes north from inland Bremen to arrive in coastal Bremerhaven. Bremen and Bremerhaven are technically the same municipality. They function under the same city government, funding, transportation network, etc. On top of all of this, Bremen (and by relation, Bremerhaven) is also its own German Bundesland (federal state). So yeah, not confusing at all…Are you writing all of this down?!
Bremerhaven is located at the mouth of the Weser River and was one of the major port cities of European immigration to the United States between 1890 and 1930. Bremerhaven is currently home to a beautiful seaside museum campus. Here you can find a zoo, an immigration museum, and a sailing ships exhibition. But one of the most eye-catching sights in Bremerhaven is a metallic bathtub-like structure called Klimahaus.
Klimahaus has been the talk of the international museum community since its opening in June 2009. This LEED-certified building was the first cultural institution to focus solely on climate change. Klimahaus explores a series of locations found along the 8° East longitudinal line. For those of you whose noses just started to bleed, I’m talking about the imaginary line that runs from the tippy top of the Earth through Germany all the way down to the south pole. The team at Klimahaus describes the building as, “a leisure centre of knowledge and adventure.” I was reminded more than twice that Klimahaus is not a museum. Hey, if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck…it’s probably a “leisure center”.
I think it’s safe to say that a portion of the general public is desensitized to climate change stories about the melting polar ice caps. I mean, how many times is that emaciated polar bear photo going to pop up on my Facebook newsfeed? In response to this climate-apathy epidemic, Klimahaus lures visitors into storylines that profile non-traditional global locales ranging from the slopes of the Swiss Alps to the jungles of Cameroon. “This journey reveals…how the lives of the humans on our planet are influenced by the climate and which changes are in store for us. This sensitises our visitors to targeted environmental and climate protection,” explains Arne Dunker, managing director of Klimahaus visitors services.
As visitors meander through the exhibits, they experience the suffocating humidity, frigid chill, and distressing dryness of each profiled location. The sensory experience is very impressive. After all, if you want people to care about climate change, make them feel uncomfortable! Trek across a Nigerian desert sand field; shiver in an Antarctic research campsite at 15℉, and sweat through your shirt as you navigate through a pitch-black jungle humidity simulation. It’s impossible to “dress properly” for the Klimahaus, but that’s precisely the point. Climate change is an uncomfortable situation.
Bremerhaven is also profiled on the narrative journey. Its location on the 8° East longitudinal line is particularly unique to the storyline of Klimahaus. “Here on the North Sea Coast the climate phenomena can be particularly spectacular; [Weather] from all the Earth’s climate zones can be experienced here,” explains Arne Dunker.
(Disclaimer: I admit that my experience at Klimahaus was limited by my beginner German language skills. It did appear that the English exhibit translations were quite short. I am certain that much more information could have been gleaned from the German exhibit texts.)
Having lived in Germany for sixteen months, I have come to accept that German culture is very direct and literal. Everything has a prescribed time and place. There is no room for misunderstanding here. A German will write a sentence that is eight lines long because she/he does not wish to be misunderstood. While I did find the narrative journey through the Klimahaus to be quite enjoyable, I found it a bit difficult to find personalized suggestions on how I can lower my own carbon footprint in order to save the planet. Alas, and in true German fashion, there is a designated time and location for things of this matter!
Enter: the World Future Lab. “The ‘World Future Lab’ is an exhibition in which the population’s competence [with] future challenges [concerning] the environment, economy, and society is evaluated. Visitors experience…how their own decisions have a global effect. Their [virtual] decisions are simulated through a real-time projection on a 3.2 meter-high globe.” Guests are invited to use touchscreen stations to manipulate various climate factors ranging from climate- resilient design to sustainable lines of production. In the end, guests are awarded with a score that shows the effectiveness of their climate-related decision-making. The World Future Lab is very user-friendly. I watched as people from all generations worked together to solve climate change in the virtual realm. The lab helped me to feel more empowered about the future of humanity.
In all, I thought the team at Klimahaus did an exceptional job. My tour guide was fabulous and super passionate. She expressed how Klimahaus was meant to inspire informed action related to climate change. Unfortunately, humans have a dark history of taking the uninformed path of least resistance in terms of caring for the planet. Only recently have we acquired a scientific snapshot of the health of our only planetary home. We desperately require a dose of directness. We deserve a brutally-honest, no-frills, literal analysis of our current climate situation…and I would trust the Germans to offer me this type of interpretation any day.