Paris opens a new museum for old computers
The view is simply breath-taking. Looking out of the window 110 meters above the city, you see an ocean of buildings leading towards the Arc de Triomphe in the Southwest; to the right are the Eiffel Tower and Tour Montparnasse. But there is even more to see on the top floor of the Grande Arche de la Defénse: France's first permanent computer museum.
On Tuesday, the Musée de l’Informatique re-opened its doors to the public. The museum is now open each day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the "Grande Arch", the main building in the business district in western Paris. In June of 2007, the history of the computer from 1940 to 1990 was presented; by March, it had attracted more than 200,000 visitors. The exhibition has now been completely re-modelled to create a permanent exhibition with a floor area of 400 square meters. There are also two special sections devoted to the history of the Internet and computer art alongside a shop, cinema, restaurant, and seminar rooms.
Founder and museum director Philippe Nieuwbourg has divided up the 300 exhibition pieces – another 1700 are kept in storage – roughly by decade. The prewar section contains punch-card machines, followed by Enigmas and analogue computers from the 1940s, tube monsters from the 50s, and mainframes from the 60s. The 1970s saw the dawn of the microprocessor era, while personal computers dominated the 1980s. In the 1990s, all eyes were on the World Wide Web, while the global inter-meshing of data, voice, music, and video dominates the current decade.
The museum also has interactive installations, audio and video stations, and presentations of hardware. A scientific committee consisting of top IT executives Alain Bernard and Gérard Louzier, professional journalists Luc Fayard and Bertrand Lemaire, and computer collector Stéphane Mathon ensures historical accuracy. All of the exhibition texts are in both French and English.
The Musée de l’Informatique is a private firm supported by Arche Numérique. As usual in the industry, potential sponsors can take advantage of various services and discounts depending on the volume of their donation. Philippe Nieuwbourg hopes to be in the black after the first year. The museum's website is soon to be translated into English.
Anyone on a trip to Paris should not only drop by La Défense, but also visit the Musée des Artet Métiers, which will not only make you feel like you are a character in a Dan Brown novel, but also show you a number of wonderful old computing machines and automatons. Perhaps France's largest collection on the history of computing is in Grenoble, but it is unfortunately not open to the public. If you are passing through Germany, we also recommend the Adam Ries Museum in Annaberg, which opens its doors this Saturday. (Ralf Bülow)