Mercedes-Benz Museum, Stuttgart, Germany
It was here, in the Germany city of Stuttgart, that the first modern automobile was created. It’s almost unrecognisable by today’s standards but the patent that Karl Benz submitted in 1886 for a vehicle with a gas engine and three wheels is generally considered to be the “birth certificate” of today’s cars.
How that legacy that he created more than a century ago has grown. Not only does the world respect the Mercedes-Benz like almost no other car brand – but here in the Baden-Wurttemberg region of Germany, its parent company, Daimler, is industrial royalty.
“What are you doing here in Stuttgart,” a guy asks me and some other bloggers at a bar on the first night in town. We tell him that we’re here for work.
“Oh, don’t tell me,” he says. “You work for Daimler, right?”
We don’t. Obviously. But it shows you the reputation the motoring giant has in Stuttgart when that’s the first and the obvious assumption people make. In this region, about 150,000 people are employed by Daimler – the majority working directly on the Mercedes-Benz brand.
Not everything happens behind the scenes, though. The company has weaved its way into the community fabric of Stuttgart. Apart from the fact that a lot of people seem to drive a Mercedes-Benz, the main sporting arena is called the Mercedes-Benz Arena… and then there’s the Mercedes-Benz Museum.
The museum tells the history of 125 years of the car company. The building itself, though, represents more of the future than the past. It’s a modern structure with a design based on a double-helix. When you arrive, you are whisked up in a glass elevator to the seventh floor where you begin the spiral journey downwards past more than 150 vehicles.
“Welcome to the museum,” the voice comes through my headphones. “Our audio guide will accompany you on your tour. Once you’ve started the sound recording, as you did just now, you can walk wherever you like…”
There’s more information than you can reasonably take in during one visit. The audio guide has a general introduction to each section and then each display has even more facts and figures you can listen to if something takes your particular interest. I feel like I’m missing out if I race through too quickly but I’m also worried I will never get out if I try to listen to everything. I stop at just one or two vehicles in each section.
“This 40 horsepower Mercedes Simplex belonged to the American billionaire William K Vanderbilt,” the voice in my ear tells me. “Delivered in March 1902, it is today the world’s oldest surviving Mercedes…”
If this was all you ever knew about cars, you would be forgiven for thinking that Mercedes-Benz ruled the roads. I suppose it’s natural that a company wants to promote its own image but there is little (if any) context of how the brand fits into the broader automotive industry. In a city that is so reliant and intertwined with one particular manufacturer, perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise.
Vroom. The sound of a car racing moves from left to right across the large hall displaying more than a dozen racing models.
The exhibition is as modern as the building containing it. Lightshows, sound effects, impressive display designs. The museum is clearly trying to capture the style and sophistication of the cars that bear its name. It makes for an experience beyond the purely informative and often I find myself admiring the way things have been laid out more than the actual cars.
Still, if you accept that the “birth certificate” of the modern car was created here, this is a fitting tribute to its life. One that clearly has many years and miles still to run.
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