The Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt a.M., Germany, may not be Germany’s best-known dinosaur museum. However, the number and quality of the dinosaur exhibits make it one of the best in Europe. And there are at least three incredible dinosaur highlights that you don’t want to miss.
The long and short of the Senckenberg Museum, Frankfurt
- Official name: Senckenberg Naturmuseum Frankfurt (Senckenberg Museum of Natural History)
- Website: https://museumfrankfurt.senckenberg.de/en
- Location: Senckenberganlage 25
- 60325 Frankfurt a.M.
- Opening times: Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday till 8 p.m. and Saturday, Sunday and Public Holidays until 6 p.m.
- Cost: Adults EUR 10.00; children and concession EUR 5.00
- COVID-19: All museums in Germany are currently closed due to the pandemic. Restrictions will apply when the museum reopens; advance bookings will be required. Face masks are required for all persons aged 6 years or older.
- What you need to know: It is the second-largest natural history museum in Germany and has the largest exhibition of large dinosaurs in Europe.
History of the Senckenberg Museum
In 1817, the Senckenberg Nature Research Society was established to support research in natural history and began with an endowment from Johann Christian Senckenberg. At first, the society established a public display of natural wonders and then took over responsibility for part of the library and the basis of the collection.
The building in which the Senckenberg Museum of Natural History is now housed was built between 1904 and 1907. During World War II, a bomb hit the museum and destroyed windows, doors and display cases and some exhibits. The exhibits were then removed for protection.
In 1948, the Fine Arts and Monuments Department of the US Military in Wiesbaden saw the return of the collection to the Museum.
Overview and first impressions
You know that any dinosaur museum that greets visitors with a life-sized Tyrannosaurus Rex is going to be good!
After a long chat with Mrs T-Rex and Mr Diplodocus and a look at some of the ichnites in the park in front of the museum, we were ready to go inside.
As is often the case with older museums, we were immediately confronted with the dinosaurs of the Atrium. For our LDA, this meant she saw all the highlights at once!
The dinosaur fossils
The Senckenberg Museum is often overshadowed by the Natural History Museum in Berlin although it has the biggest collection of large dinosaurs in Europe.
To the joy of our LDA, the Senckenberg has a T-Rex, Parasaurolophus, Quetzalcoatlus, Stegosaurus, Plateosaurus, Oviraptor, Euplocephalus and an Iguanodon. She enjoyed standing in the huge titanosaur footprint and comparing her own height to the Supersaurus leg bones. The Psittacosaurus fossil with its tail quills and stomach contents was also given significant observation.
The adjoining rooms also fascinated our LDA. One holds a large collection of fossilised marine reptiles and sea creatures, including a Mosasaur, Ichthyosaur and a Peloneustes (Plesiosaur), one of our LDA’s favourite prehistoric creatures. She is a big fan of Mary Anning.
On another floor, there are various avian dinosaurs on display, including the Archaeopteryx, together with one of the world’s largest bird collections.
The three big highlights
Two of our LDA’s absolute highlights can be seen almost immediately when you enter the Atrium. The third, scientifically much more important highlight is not obvious at first.
For the inauguration of the Senckenberg Museum in 1907, the American Museum of Natural History gifted the Museum an 18-metre long Diplodocus, which had been discovered in Bone Cabin Quarry in Wyoming. This was the Museum’s first dinosaur.
Apart from the skull, the fossils of this diplodocus are real and not copies. It is the only skeleton of this species on display outside of the USA.
The Triceratops is the symbol of the Senckenberg Museum, so it is only fitting that they have a Triceratops. In fact, they have three.
Two are skulls of Triceratops proteus – rare original specimens that were recovered in Wyoming in 1910. One of these is almost complete and huge – nearly 2.5 metres long!
In addition, the Museum has a reconstruction of a full Triceratops Horridus skeleton, as described by Othniel Charles Marsh in 1889.
This is perhaps the most fascinating and scientifically most important fossil in the museum’s collection, but I am not sure that our LDA understood the significance.
As I mentioned in one of our Instagram posts, the Senckenberg Museum has a dinosaur mummy! This Edmontosaurus fossil even has unique, preserved, scaley skin. It is one of the best-preserved dinosaur mummies in the world and only the second to be found.
I was fascinated. Our LDA, not as much because the fossil is lying as it was found and not upright to give a better idea of what the Edmontosaurus looked like (the Senckenberg Museum does have a great solution to this problem – we’ll explain more shortly).
Other ancient highlights
The Senckenberg Museum is not just known for its dinosaurs.
One exhibit that I found fascinating was the Messel pit. Messel is a town about 40km from Frankfurt where the fossils of various animals that lived 50 MYA have been found. Many of these – mice, reptiles, fish and a 60 cm tall predecessor to the modern horse – are on display at the Senckenberg Museum.
The museum also has a number of prehistoric mammals. These include a cave bear, a sabre-toothed cat, a prehistoric whale with small hind legs and an American Mastodon which stood in the American Museum of Natural History for 30 years before moving to Frankfurt.
The Senckenberg Museum is also home to one of the most famous finds related to the evolutionary development of humans. “Lucy” – named after the Beatles hit “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” – is considered the oldest evidence of an upright gait. Although she lived 3.2 MYA and was only 1.05 metres tall, Lucy walked as we do.
Next to Lucy is the Mammal Hall, which includes weird and wonderful mounted and stuffed mammals, some of which are extinct. Look out of the zebra-like quagga, which is one of only 23 surviving specimens (the quagga became extinct in 1883). The Museum also has a thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, which is now considered extinct. And a dodo, of course.
Smaller dinosaur fossils
The Senckenberg Museum is also known for its collection of birds, one of the largest in Europe. Part of this collection also includes a number of fossils of small dinosaurs, such as the Compsygnatus, Caudipteryx and the Dromaeosaurus, as well as various Archaeopteryx found in Solnhofen. This was just more proof for our LDA that birds are descendants of dinosaurs.
Fascination of Animals
A 15-metre by 4-metre wall displays around 1,000 biological and geological research artefacts, representing the diversity of nature. These exhibits make up only 0.0025% of the Museum’s scientific collections. The exhibition brings together animals, fossils and plants that would never otherwise have mixed, from glittering minerals and shiny exotic birds to a minuscule beetle to a male okapi. And, yes, fossils. Our LDA loved using the telescope to see things in more detail.
Unfortunately, health restrictions have meant that some of the activities that are available at the Senckenberg Museum are currently not running. This does not mean that there is nothing for little dinosaur fans to do!
At various spots in the museum, there are objects that are there to be touched and examined. These are clearly marked with a red hand and include a real fossilised dinosaur rib bone, a replica of a fossilised Archaeopteryx complete with feathers and a footprint from a titanosaur for you to stand in.
Normally, as part of the display about Edmond the dinosaur mummy, there are virtual reality headsets that let you see what Edmond and other Edmontosaurus looked like and how they moved. Unfortunately, this activity is not in use at the moment.
Edmond’s Prehistoric Realm
However, our LDA loved the chance to see some real palaeontologists at work and ask them questions! This project is known as “Edmond’s Prehistoric Realm”.
A bone bed containing a wealth of bones of Edmonotosaurus and other fossils was retrieved from the Lance Formation in Wyoming This block of stone measuring approximately 20 square meters was then transported in two shipping containers to Frankfurt.
It is now on display in the courtyard of the museum, where preparators expose the fossils in the rock slab and prepared them for analysis in front of visitors. Our LDA was mesmerised.
Restaurant and shop
If you are feeling hungry, the bistro is definitely worth a visit.
The menu is limited, but the portions are large, tasty and quite reasonably priced – there is not the typical museum markup. We were all very happy with our choices – pasta with butter and parmesan, a Mexican salad with grilled beef and tortellini with 4 cheese sauce and it was definitely better than the fried food and sandwiches that are on offer.
If you can and it is a nice day, take a seat on the terrace. When we were there, only bar stools were available, so we had to sit inside.
The shop is smaller than others we have seen, but we still found a few interesting things that we had not seen before. They have a good range of dinosaur and other science books (mostly in German). Our LDA found a container with a magnifying glass that is designed for looking at insects but also works for small fossils, like those she excavated at Münchehagen Dino Park.
What else should you see in the area?
If you want to see some real living fossils, try the Frankfurt Zoo. It is the second oldest zoo in Germany. Highlights include the Grzimek House, with nocturnal animals from Madagascar, the two-story Exoterium (aquarium and reptile house) and the Borgori Forest that is home to the great apes.
If you just want some fresh air, how about a picnic in the park? Frankfurt has a number of family-friendly parks. Why not try Rebstockpark (Max-Pruss-Str.) or, if the temperature is right, or the waterpark at Lohrpark (Friedrich Heyer Weg).
Do you want something to contrast with your trip to the Senckenberg Museum? Frankfurt Airport is Germany’s busiest airport and has a public viewing platform.
Finally, if you are willing to go a little further afield, you could take a tour of the Messel Mine (Messel Grube), which has just celebrated the 25th anniversary of its listing as a UN World Heritage Site. It is located about 45 km from the Senckenberg Museum; visits by tour only. Wear appropriate shoes.
Like the Senckenberg Museum itself, many of these sites are currently closed for the pandemic. Please check their homepages for openings and restrictions.
Little Dinosaur Aficionado: “I really liked it. It was great. They have lots of my favourite dinosaurs and I like being able to touch the fossils and talk to the palaeontologists and ask questions.”
Mamasaurus: I was very pleasantly surprised by the Senckenberg Museum. The museum had so much more to see than I was expecting, but because it wasn’t too cramped, you could take your time and appreciate how extensive the collection was, especially the dinosaurs. And the Edmontosaurus mummy was absolutely fascinating.