It’s Wednesday afternoon at the NEMO Museum. As you enter the first floor of the exhibitions you can already see a lot of people walking around. Many experiments and test objects are set up here. In the entire museum, you can spot children aged between five and twelve, running from experiment to experiment. The longer they use the test objects, the wider the children’s eyes get. Their mouths drop in amazement. The corridors are filled with children’s laughter, loud shouting, and the dull sound of footsteps. A little girl stands by a wind machine. Several small gusts of wind are sweeping through her long, curly blonde hair. The longer she stands there, the wider her grin becomes and her eyes sparkle with joy. In the meantime, her mother prances around her with a mobile phone in her hand and shouts: “Smile for the camera!“
A lot has changed for visitors of the museum in the last two years. There is no longer a typical museum day. During the Corona Pandemic the NEMO Museum and many other similar establishments had to be closed several times due to lockdown. “We had three lockdowns. We never really work without being afraid of another closure,” says Nemo Employee Standish (38). “We still have to think about the distance, that’s why we put restrictions on the amount of people that can enter. Like this it won’t get as full as it was before. But the visitors don’t mind, we noticed that they actually enjoy it more when it’s not too crowded,” he explains.
The NEMO Science Museum attracts especially children and their families. “It’s a family museum, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily only for children. Adults can also have fun here,” Standish states. NEMO’s visitors learn about the basic principles of science, technology, and humankind. About phenomena such as electricity, light, sound, and gravity. They learn by doing, by experiencing and by using all their senses.
A little girl in a pink overall is sitting on a plastic chair at the end of a large metal tower. She tries to pull the chair to the top of the tower with the help of a knotted rope. While doing so, she holds her breath. Her cheeks get bigger, and her face turns red. She clings tightly to the rope. When she finally reaches the top of the tower, she exhales loudly and lets go of the rope. The seat moves down. The girl’s mouth forms into a big grin. Her expression changes to full joy and pride while her eyes begin to sparkle. “My child is basically living her best life here. The museum is really interactive, so she can learn a lot by actually doing the experiments herself,” her mother Nienke (35) says.
It’s 4 pm. While Standish is preparing a parkour for the last performance, the murmur of the audience echoes through the room. He steps forward and starts talking: “Welcome to the last chain reaction for today.” The parkour is very elaborate: A desk chair on a ramp attached to a rope, several funnels with balls in them, a water bottle hanging from the ceiling on a string, a skateboard on the floor and much more. The audience counts down: “vijf, vier, drie, twee, een”. Standish starts the chain reaction by placing a brown billiard ball on a ramp and letting it go. The ball crashes against one of the large green dominoes, triggering a big chain reaction. One object after another moves or falls over. The auditorium is filled with shouts of ah and oh, children jump from their seats and the soundscape gets louder and louder until the final chain of reactions takes place. At the end comes the thunderous applause.
Not all shows were allowed since the pandemic started. “Between the lockdowns we didn’t have this chain reaction show because people are standing around and try to see what is going on, so of course you couldn’t keep the distance. That’s why we walked around the visitors to show them some experiments. We found some solutions to still make our museum fun to visit,” Standish explains. Roos (42) states: “I don’t mind booking a ticket before because it also only takes a couple of minutes. Also, there’s no line at the ticket counter anymore. With impatient children it’s nice to just enter and let them experience everything.” “I really like it that there aren’t as many people as there used to be. You don’t have to wait in a line to try the different stations you can just go to the one you want to do,” her son Lars (10) continues.
There might be some measures still in place, but it seems like all the involved are happy with it. Families can, after a long time, finally spend a day in the museum again without worrying about the long lines or the crowded floors. Visiting a museum today might probably be less stressful than it was before.