Vividly demonstrated: The German Petroleum Museum documents early industrial oil production in Wietze at the beginning of the 20th century.
Shortly before Whitsun, the German Petroleum Museum in Wietze reopened its doors after extensive remodeling. The reopening was celebrated with a small ceremony, which was also attended by political celebrities via video. In his opening remarks, museum director Stephan Lütgert looked back at the museum’s recent history. It started with the insight into the necessity of a redesign of the museum in the distant past, followed by several attempts to relaunch the exhibition, which were initially not successful, up to the moment when the plans finally gained momentum.
According to Lütgert, the main task was to “clear out” the interior of the museum, which had emerged some 60 years ago from an abandoned production operation of Deutsche Erdöl AG (DEA). He was self-critical, saying that over the years the museum had developed too much into an “exploration and drilling museum”. It was long overdue to focus on the many other facets of crude oil as a raw material and its specific significance for Wietze and the region. Therefore, many exhibits had to be banished to the depot in order to create space for the presentation of new topics as well as numerous new elements of a more contemporary presentation.
The modern and appealing exhibition concept now skillfully combines rare historical exhibits with modern elements such as video installations, attractively designed display boards and numerous stations in the exhibition that invite visitors to interact with them. The new concept is already visible in the central entrance hall: Upon entering, the eye is first drawn to a video installation hanging from the ceiling, which shows film documents from well over 50 years of advertising and petroleum history in an endless loop.
An initial orientation aid is subsequently provided by a timeline mounted below on the walls of the outer shell of the room, which is set at an angle. With moving images and the first attractive exhibits, it already sheds light on important aspects and stations in the region’s 150-year petroleum history. This area, which is used like a stage, is followed by the actual exhibition area. Thematically divided into the areas of energy, mobility and plastics for packaging and a wide variety of products, the museum visitor first finds an introduction to the scope of the topic. In the subsequent sections of the exhibition, they can then delve into the geological genesis of the raw material, learn about the technical principles and challenges of its extraction and processing, or deal with the political and ecological side effects, which are addressed right up to the devastating effects of leaks and tanker accidents.
An extremely exciting new component of the exhibition is the comprehensive review of the history of the site in the late 19th century and early 20th century, which is eloquent testimony not only to the numerous historical photos on the attractively designed display panels, but also to the exhibits on the outside.
The “dirty side” of the oil boom in Wietze and the surrounding area comes literally within reach. Historic pumps used to extract the black gold, multi-stage sedimentation tanks used to separate the actual oil from the water in the “black soup” extracted from the surface, or some of the seepage pits in which the crude oil once sloshed, make one shudder at how carelessly this highly problematic substance was handled at the time and what hard and unhealthy work was required for its extraction.
On the other hand, many other silent witnesses of the former oil boom exhibited on the grounds allow a more light-hearted approach to petroleum history. At the forefront of these are the drilling derricks located on the grounds, which, like the light railway line built in the course of the redesign, provide the youngest museum visitors in particular with starting points for getting to grips with this truly complex subject. This gimmick, which is primarily owed to young families, was also one of the three not inconsiderable cost items for the all-round successful relaunch.
The total cost of the relaunch was around € 1.1 million. In addition to the light railroad, the redesign of the exhibition and the digitization of the extensive collection of historical photographs from the early days of oil production were the most significant costs. The necessary financial injections were provided by a total of nine public corporations and associations. The funding came from the State Ministry for Culture and Media (BKM), the Federal Association for Natural Gas, Petroleum and Geoenergy (BVEG), the community of benefactors of the Sparkasse Celle-Gifhorn-Wolfsburg, the Lower Saxony Ministry for Science and Culture, the district of Celle, the municipality of Wietze, the Lower Saxony Foundation, the Lower Saxony Savings Bank Foundation and finally the Lüneburg Regional Association.