Destination: Munich, Germany
The world's largest technology museum is set prominently on an island in the middle of the river Isar as it flows through Munich.
The collection at Deutsches Museum highlights many German-made artifacts and priceless originals, but that's because Germans were at the forefront of so many scientific developments in the 19th century. You'll see the first electric dynamo (built by Siemens in 1866), the first automobile (built by Benz in 1886), the first diesel engine (Diesel, 1897), and the laboratory bench at which the atom was first split (Hahn and Strassmann, 1938). Then there's an X-ray machine from 1895 and the first truly powerful refracting telescope, which discovered Neptune in 1846. There's as much history as science here -- an 1806 Jacquard loom, championed by Napoleon, that revolutionized the textile industry (thus replacing a cottage industry with factories), or the ciphering machines used in World War II to translate messages into the long-unbroken Enigma code.
Even children too young to appreciate these ground-breaking inventions will enjoy the hands-on exhibits, with hundreds of buttons to push, levers to crank, and gears to turn. Lots of knowledgeable staff (excellent English speakers, generally) hang around to answer questions and demonstrate the scientific principles that make steam engines and pumps work.
Don't get hung up on seeing everything; get a museum guide and head for the areas your family is most interested in, whether it be airplanes, bikes, clocks, cars, or computers. The electrical power hall is also intriguing, with high-voltage displays that actually produce lightning. Amateur astronomer will enjoy the planetarium and a two-domed observatory with a solar telescope.
Information: Museumsinsel 1 (tel. 089/21791; www.deutsches-museum.de).
Nearest Airport: Munich International, 27km (17 miles).
Accommodations: Hotel Jedermann, Bayerstrasse 95 (tel. 49/89/543240; www.hotel-jedermann.de). Hotel Splendid-Dollmann im Lehel, Thierschstrasse 49 (tel. 49/89/238080; www.hotel-splendid-dollmann.de).