EUROPE
Gondwana Das Praehistorium

Gondwana Das Praehistorium (Kat Nickola)

As we rounded a bend at the Gondwana Das Praehistorium, a life-sized Tyrannosaurus Rex roared at my family, a half-eaten meal hanging from its lower jaw. Its dead prey, a triceratops, lay gashed open at its feet while the sounds of thunder could be heard in the distance. This was cool!

Situated in the small town of Schiffweiler, Das Praehistorium gives a nod to the former coal-mining economy of the area with its display on the Carboniferous period. It is the first walk-through diorama of the museum and features all the plants and animals, sights and sounds, of the ecosystem that would compress into coal over 300 million years ago.

The scope of Das Praehistorium covers an extreme expanse of time: from primeval to modern. The museum traces the flow of evolution quite broadly from the beginning of life all the way through to the modern era. Its best show of force, however, is in the Mesozoic Era. That’s dinosaur times, for the uninitiated.

A 3D film on evolution started our tour through the past. Then there was a quick walk through four billion years of boring Precambrian evolution. The museum really does the best they can making bacteria interesting. Quickly, however, we moved into the first of many full-immersion geologic time periods. The Permian was especially dramatic as we stood around in a recreated slot canyon waiting with a life-sized Dimetrodon as thunder boomed. Suddenly, a flash flood gushed into the space. It was shocking, loud and such a fun surprise. Even my three-year-old nephew liked that one.

Gondwana Das Praehistorium

Gondwana Das Praehistorium (Kat Nickola)

Each geologic period had an introduction space with informative displays and signboards to prepare us for entering the re-created space. All of them are in German, but a QR-coded audio guide provides translations. Sadly, we were not able to get it working on my husband’s phone. It is a little finicky, so be sure to connect to the museum’s Wi-Fi when getting tickets and test out the system. There are plenty of employees along the way who can help.

After wandering through the tropical Triassic, seeing the wetlands of the Jurassic and experiencing the perpetual dark cold of the southern Cretaceous, we watched a short 4D movie in German that detailed the extinction of the dinosaurs.

That made a good breaking point, so we popped back out into the modern entry hall. It was lunchtime, so we paused and got some pizza, brats and pommes at the on-site restaurant under the massive Argentinosaurus skeleton that dominates the space.

The second half of the museum took an interesting turn. Instead of continuing the prehistoric trajectory, we were, instead, deposited at the International Space Station. From there, the experiential rooms proceeded back through select moments in human history. We walked through an Industrial Revolution textile factory, past the Mayan jungle, through a medieval castle and into an Egyptian burial chamber before walking through a bronze-age cave replete with cave art and a pre-historic family gathered around a fire. It was caveman times at its finest. Further rooms followed the reverse evolution of humans and through a very well-down recreated wetland until we were, suddenly, back in the Cretaceous. The flow was a bit odd, but perhaps there was something lost in translation.

Gondwana Das Praehistorium

Gondwana Das Praehistorium (Kat Nickola)

At that point, we entered what the museum claims is “the biggest Dinoshow in the world.” The nearly life-sized animatronic animals throughout the museum are impressive. Gone are the jittery days of creepy whirring machines. A huge, long-necked dino and its baby were the features of the Dinoshow, and their look and movements are very realistic. The show itself has overly dramatic orchestral background music that falls into old tropes of pegging the carnivores as scary bad guys, but OK, I get it, we all want to love the cute baby dino and hope the mean T-Rex doesn’t eat it. The show was enjoyable. It was also quite loud, even more so than the rest of the museum. Anyone sensitive to emotional scenes will want to skip it, as well, since the ending is as expected: The asteroid hits and our Cretaceous scene comes to an end.

Following the Dinoshow masterpiece is a segment of construction. A new display is in the works and is intended for public release in the spring of 2024! I’m excited to go see what it entails. The final attraction at Das Praehistorium is the Megalodon 3D show. It was another highlight; prepare to be attacked! It is short, but quite enjoyable for my family of teenagers. Two other kids who I would guess were aged between seven and nine years old didn’t make it the whole way through. They ran out scared while a third kid braved the entire show, but not without needing a cry and cuddle from dad on the way out.

Das Praehistorium recommends children be at least six years old to enjoy the museum. My three-year-old nephew, however, found the place enthralling, with some big exceptions. He and his mom skipped the movies, blitzed past the T-Rex, and didn’t watch the big Dinoshow or the Megalodon.

Small children are not the primary audience here; the museum is geared toward older kids and adults. My teenagers, at 13 and 16, are over the cutesy kid-focused route paleontology has taken, but they are also not that into reading tiny signs at stuffy fossil museums. Enter Das Praehistorium. This place doesn’t hold back from the realism factor; there are guts and gore and naked Australopithecus. There are also loud scenes with special effects and a bunch of fossil replicas and geologic facts thrown in for pacing. Two teenage thumbs up!

Gondwana Das Praehistorium

Gondwana Das Praehistorium (Kat Nickola)

The museum is named after Gondwana, which was the southern portion of the supercontinent Pangea that held most of Earth’s landmass throughout much of prehistory. Interestingly, Gondwana was not the precursor to modern Europe, but, instead, it primarily held southern hemisphere continents like Africa and South America.

Gondwana Das Praehistorium is not a cheap museum, but after spending three hours there we felt the cost was warranted for true dino-lovers. Base entry is 23 euros for adults and 17 euros for children aged 4 to 17. Those under four years old are free. However, family discounts are available on the website. In addition, a 10% military discount is available when individual tickets are purchased on-site with a military ID. While the museum has a one-way flow to it, you are welcome to walk through as many times as you’d like. Bags and bulky items are not permitted.

author picture
Kat is a travel and lifestyle writer based in Kaiserslautern, Germany with a special interest in anything outdoorsy or ancient. She has a bachelor’s degree in geography from Penn State University and has been a travel writer for about 10 years. Currently, she is in the depths of dissertation research for an archaeology degree at the University of the Highlands and Islands. 

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