If you are a car lover, you have to rev up your engine at the ultra-swish Mercedes Benz Museum in Stuttgart, that cost a whopping 150 million Euro. Spread over 16,500 square metres, with over 1500 exhibits and 160 vehicles over nine levels, this spaceship style building has 1800 triangular glass panels, each in a different design. The futuristic architecture is based on the double helix of a DNA spiral. The Dutch architect firm which designed the museum took into account the topography of the area, with the hills and curves of the Neckar valley, and even the materials used in its construction (aluminium and glass) were those usually used in the automobile industry.
"The Mercedes-Benz Museum lies just outside the factory gates at the parent plant in Untertürkheim. It was here in Bad Cannstatt that the automobile was invented, so we are in a truly historical setting," says Michael Bock, Managing Director of Mercedes Benz Museum GmbH.
The unique feature of the building is that there are no closed rooms and no straight walls; the spaces just flow into each other. The free audio guide that comes with the entrance ticket has three narrations against each vehicle: the basic background, the story of each car and the engineering behind each vehicle. A sleek elevator that looks like it came out of Star Wars whizzes you to the top floor of the museum, as you see images on the atrium wall accompanied by the sound of a horse's hooves. It all begins with a horse and Kaiser Wilhelm II who once said, "I do believe in the horse...the automobile is no more than a transitory phenomenon".
One of the first exhibits that I see is the 1886 Daimler Patent Wagon, the three wheeled buggy which was the first gasoline powered automobile with a single cylinder. Of course this is a faithful reproduction made by the factory staff. The German mechanical engineer, Karl Benz built the world's first practical automobile powered by an internal-combustion engine. I make my way along a circular route along the nine levels laid out like a racing track around an open atrium. All around are panoramic windows with great views of the city.
The Legend rooms showcase the history of the brand, and its 120 year old lineage. It illustrates a particular era- starting with the invention of the petrol-driven automobile and ending with the record breaking cars. Alongside are the Collection Rooms with their own specific theme showcasing the diversity of the company's vehicles in categories like Helpers, Carriers and Heroes. After all, though Mercedes Benz is perceived as a luxury car maker, it has commercial vehicles too: they transport firemen, move world leaders and even collect waste. Along the ramp linking the Legend to the Collection rooms are glass cases displaying vehicle parts and accessories.
How did the name Mercedes meaning 'grace' in Spanish come into being? Mercedes was the name of the daughter of an Austrian businessman called Emil Jellinek. He ordered his first car in 1897 with the Daimler factory and after that promoted their cars in the elite sections of society. He used the pseudonym Mercedes (his 10 year old daughter's name) when he raced at Nice. Under this name he entered into a marketing agreement with the Daimler Company and the rest is history...
In the 'Gallery of names' are the cars and vehicles of celebrities, I gawk at Princess Diana's red 1991 500 SL which she returned in 1992, due to government criticism to her driving a foreign car! Among the exhibits here are the huge yellow bus which was used by the German football team in 1974, the special Mercedes 770 Grand Pullman limousine built for Japanese Emperor Hirohito in 1935, which had special protective steel armour and the 1980 230 G 'Pope mobile' or the vehicle to transport the Pope. This was built in 1980 for Pope John Paul's visit, to protect him from wind and rain. After the assassination attempt in May 1981, it was made bullet- proof and glazed. I also catch sight of vehicles which were part of movies like the 1997 Mercedes Benz M Class which was one of the cars used in the "Lost World".
Mercedes has done a lot over the years in bettering the motoring experience: one was the introduction of customization when buying a car. By 1956 you could order your Mercedes-Benz in 26 different colors. It's also interesting to also see how the company pioneered safety systems in the 80s like the air bag and anti-lock braking systems. The Museum has so many historic vehicles in its warehouses that the displays are rotated on a regular basis.
Legend 7 is the finale to the museum, where I take a seat on a grandstand and watch footages of historical motor races on six monitors and the cavalcade of cars displayed on the steep curve which becomes a vertical wall- some of the famous record breaking cars like the the Phoenix racing car, Lewis Hamilton's 2008 F1 World Championship winner and the '722' 300 SLR Roadster used by Stirling Moss to win the dangerous Mille Miglia in a record time. This room leads to the Legend room devoted to races and records filled with racing memorabilia and offering racing simulators to visitors.
I round off my visit with a snack at the ground floor cafe and a visit to the Mercedes Benz shop in the basement where I pick up a model sedan as a souvenir to remember my visit. The Mercedes Benz brand is associated with comfort, safety, speed, class and social responsibility. The Museum lives up to all its exalted standards. For me just being in the presence of the hallowed cars was well worth the admission!
The author is a travel writer and blogger based in Chennai, India and her blog can be found at www. Kalpanasunder.com/blog
Photos courtesy of Kalpana Sunder.