Some of the world’s best known car brands originate from Germany – Mercedes Benz, BMW, Porsche, Volkswagen and Audi and now even three of the classic British marques – Bentley, Rolls-Royce and ‘the Mini’ have become German owned marques. There is also the Trabant (Trabi) – the little 500cc later 600cc East German Car built with a plastic body and 2 stroke engine that was manufactured from 1957 to 1991, with something like a cult following and marques like NSU with its revolutionary Wankel Rotary engine that have disappeared into the pages of history.
In many ways cars and engineering have become symbols of German Technology and development.
The Volkswagen, VW symbol was famously attached to some of the all-time classic cars that gained their own distinct personalities too – the VW Kombi van and the VW dub Beetle, the people’s car both becoming two of the most recognizable cars in the world, the Kombi, a symbol of ‘freedom of the road’ and the Beetle challenging convention with its rear mounted engine and distinctive shape and sound too.
The German Car industry is today even stronger than it was in times past, but that is not to say that it does not have great competition coming from car makers in France, Japan, Korea, United States, China, India and other countries, with manufacturing of cars now located in many other countries too from Mexico, to Brazil, South Africa, Thailand and beyond.
Many of the great marques of the past have either vanished or been merged into one of the bigger automakers with a new frontier of transport emerging with electric cars, driverless cars, drone development, the IOT (Internet of things) all likely to change the way that we gain and use transport, and particularly vehicles that we would normally describe as “cars”.
In Germany there are a number of museums that are dedicated to specific marques and some of these are specially interesting and beautifully set out.
If you have a passion for cars, driving on the German Autobahns or even just general interest in cars and engineering, then Germany is the country to head to –
- Mercedes-Benz Museum – is a fantastic museum in Stuttgart with some 160 vehicles on display and some 1500 exhibits in a 9 storey building dedicated to showcasing both their classic cars, buses and trucks, as well as their newest developments, with a bookshop and café also located here too.
The Mercedes-Benz Museum is located at Mercedes Strasse 100 in Stuttgart and is open 9 to 6pm Tuesday to Sunday (closed Mondays). Here you take an elevator/lift to the 9th floor and walk down a wide circular walkway that takes you down past the cars and exhibits. If you love seeing great Mercedes-Benz cars that are rarely if ever seen in public, this is the museum to see.
By way of early History, Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler began making cars in 1886, their one cylinder “3 wheeled Motorwagen’ their first model. Between 1894 and 1899 some 1200 Benz Velo cars were produced, their first production car, with one cylinder and a 1.5hp engine that enabled the car to reach a speed of 12 kilometres an hour. By 1934, Daimler-Benz were producing over 10,000 cars a year and today they manufacture and sell around 2.2 Million vehicles each year, manufactured or assembled in a number of production plants.
The Stuttgart Museum also sell some classic Mercedes-Benz cars too, and in the Stuttgart suburb of Fellbach there is the Classic Centre on Stuttgarter Strasse 90, that sells both restored classic Mercedes-Benz cars as well as restoring cars and selling parts too. (Tel: +49 (0) 711 173 0000.
- The Porsche Museum – This is also in Stuttgart, a brilliant building on PorschePlatz 1 in the suburb of Zuffenhausen, close to the Neuwirtshaus/PorschePlatz ‘S’ Bahn railway station, making it easy to get to.
The polygon shaped futuristic building opened on the 31st January 2009, designed by the Austrian Architect, Delugan Meissl and outside is a large and impressive sculpture that seems to reach for the sky as angled pillars crossing over each other with 3 cars held high above – no doubt symbolising the Porsche vision of reaching to the future through engineering, function and design.
Here in the exhibition space there are around 80 cars on display at any one time along with other memorabilia and information about Porsche and its original creators Ferdinand Porsche (1875-1951) and his son Ferry Porsche (1909-1998). Porsche cars are also built here too and it is possible to also hire a Porsche to drive for an hour or a week, but at a cost too around 140 Euros for an hour and only if you have at least 5 years of experience as a licensed driver and are over 27 years old. A deposit of 2500 Euro is also required as a deposit bond.
The first Porsche branded sports car, the 356 made by hand was produced in 1948 in Austria, but the Porsche Family moved to Stuttgart in 1949 and established the Porsche Factory in Zuffenhausen in 1950, going on to produce 78,000 Porsche 356 models over the next 17 years. Millions of Porsche cars have been produced since.
While the Porsche cars were only first produced in 1948, Ferdinand Porsche had built his first car the ‘P1’ in 1898 in Austria and he and Ferry Porsche were also the designers/engineers behind many other automotive developments too, the father working with Adolf Hitler to develop “ the People’s Car”, the VW Beetle that began production in 1938 and the Tiger Tank used in World War Two by the Germans.
In 2008 Porsche, made an audacious bid to buy Volkswagen but the battle for supremacy ended in court cases, massive debt escalation and in 2012, Volkswagen ended up buying Porsche.
Ferry Porsche is quoted as saying “Life itself is a race, marked by a start and a finish. It is what we learn during the race and how we apply it that determines whether our participation has had particular value.”
- BMW Museum – Munich – is located on Am Olympiapark 2 in Munich in Bavaria and is a large complex that first opened in 1973. It is open 7 days a week and there are also plant tours to see production between 9 and 4.30 Monday to Friday. In the main Exhibition “Vision” spaces there are around 120 great cars and bikes to see and also exhibition spaces for Rolls Royce, Minis, Electric Vehicles and Motor Bikes. You can easily spend a great day here.
BMW stands for Bayerische Motoren Werke ( Bavarian Motor Works) and the company dates back to its beginning in 1916 when the company manufactured engines for the fledgling Aircraft industry, also making engines for bikes at the same time.
Its foray into building cars began in 1929 when under Licence it built Austin 7 ‘Dixi’ cars, with its first sports production car, the BMW 328 built in 1936. World War Two saw the company stop production of cars and concentrate on building aircraft engines and it was not until 1952 that car production would start once again.
BMW has become world renowned for its motor bikes as well as cars and today has a number of production plants and with the addition of Rolls Royce and the Mini, it sells over 2.3 million cars each year.
The Museum is stunning not just for its cars but also for its architecture and style and well worth the time to come and see it.
ALSO in Munich look to the see the Deutsches (German) Museum – on Museum Island – which has a vast collection covering history and advances in Music, Medicine, Photography, Technology and more. They have a Wrights Brother’s Aircraft, the 1st U Boat, a Douglas DC3 aircraft and a remarkable collection of the tiny Goggomobil, Messerschmitt and BMW Isetta cars from the 1950’s. The transport part of the Museum (Verkehrzentrum) is located at Theresienhöhe 14a – that was once used for tradefairs.
- VW Stiftung Auto Museum – Wolfsburg - Wolfsburg is where the VW main Production plant is located and here there is the Autostrade – two round tower buildings where robotics park and pick up new cars in the towers for delivery to new owners. There are around 400 vehicles parked in each tower. Nearby on Diesel Strasse 35 is a Museum showcasing VW Beetles, including the famous ‘Herbie’ from the Love Bug movie, along with many Kombi Vans and other vehicles. The museum is interesting, but does not have the style and sophistication of the BMW, Mercedes or Porsche museums.
It seems strange that VW doesn’t have a huge museum given that the company owns VW, Audi, Skoda, Bentley, Bugatti, Seat, Lamborghini, Porsche, Ducati, Scania and Man Trucks.
- Audi Museum Mobile Museum – The Museum is located in Ingolstadt in Bavaria, on Auto-Union Strasse, roughly half way between Stuttgart and Munich. This is also where Audi cars and manufactured and buyers can also pick up their new Audi and there are also factory tours too. The Museum is on 3 levels and has around 100 vehicles and 2 wheelers on display, and possibly also Ducati Motor Bikes (being part of the VW-Audi Family) along with Restaurant and shop for Audi merchandise and souvenirs.
The history of Audi goes back to the time when August Horch (1868-1951) who had worked with Karl Benz in charge of production between 1896 and 1899, set up his own company in 1901 making cars under the Horch name. He sold this company and when he re-established a new company, he used the name ‘Audi’. In the 1928 Depression, his company merged with three car makers and the ‘4 Circle Rings’ emblem was born, with the merged company named as ‘Auto Union’ again using the Horch brand on the cars they produced – used as an H holding the Horch name above it as their emblem on the front of the cars along with the four circles. Altogether 4 brands – Horch, Audi, DKW and Wanderer were produced by the Auto Union Company.
Very stylish Horch sporting ‘Phaeton’ saloon cars in the 1930’s, not only have an H and Horch name logo on their bonnets but also on their hubcaps and even metal clutch and brake pedals, the cars, rare as they may be, selling for around a million dollars.
World War Two saw the Auto Union company build troop carriers and aircraft engines, and post war small 2 cylinder cars too, but it wasn’t until the development of the Quattro Engine that the fortunes of the company improved with the first Audi Quattro produced in 1980 and continuing to be manufactured until 1991. The 4 wheel drive Quattro set the pace in Rally Driving and a new era emerged with Audi cars now part of the VW Group and competing in the luxury stakes with BMW and Mercedes.
The Audi Museum is well set out, has lots of interesting film and visual material as well as some sensational cars, so well worth seeing, particularly if you are an Audi fan.
- Horch Museum – This is a Museum located in the factory in Zwickau in Saxony where Horch cars were built and also the little Trabant (Trabi) cars from 1957. They now make VW cars in Zwickau too, but it is the Museum that attracts great interest.
The Museum opened in 2004 and has some of the stunning Horch and Audi cars on a permanent display including a 1911 Audi Type B, and even a Gas Station from the 1930’s era, along with Trabants and other memorabilia. The museum is very well set out and styled and if you are in Zwichau, it is a definite place to head to. See www.horch-museum.de
- Deutsches-Zweirad-und NSU Museum - This museum is located at Urbanstrasse 11 in the city of Neckarsulm, near Stuttgart in a 5 storey castle building dating back to the 13th Century. Here in the Museum there are Motorbikes from 50 different manufacturers including a reproduction of an 1885 Daimler Einspur – the first motorbike to use a gasoline internal combustion engine, as well as many other classics. Also here in the museum are bicycles and NSU cars and Motorbikes too. NSU cars were once made in Neckarsulm, including the Ro 80 before the company was taken over by VW and merged into Audi. Today in the Neckarsulm factory some 260,000 Audis are built here. If you have a passion for motorbikes, this museum is a must to see.
- Auto and Teknik Museum – Sinheim, between Manheim and Heilbronn, about an hour from Frankfurt. You can get here by road or train, with the station, Sinheim MuseumArena near the Museum. This museum is an absolute stunner, the main attraction being a real Air France Concorde Supersonic aircraft that faces towards the sky mounted on a steel frame and next to it a Russian Tupolev TU 144 – from 1968 also mounted on steel looking ready to take flight. Pretty amazing to see, but also here in the museum there are other aircraft, Vintage cars, Formula I racers, Motorbikes, locomotives, sports cars including a DeLorean, American Dream Cars, Goggomobil cars and Military vehicles – so lots to see.
One of the great things about Germany are the Autobahns that crisscross the country. Many of these have no speed limits so that means being extra, extra careful when you change lanes while driving. You might be doing 100 kilometres an hour, but another car in the inner lane may be travelling at 240 kilometres an hour. There are also masses of trucks, most staying in the truck lane, and there are sections of the Autobahns that do have Speed Cameras and Average Speed cameras too.
Germans have voted not to have toll roads, whereas in France there are many, so if travelling from the north to the south of Europe, it will be a lot cheaper travelling through Germany than it is through France.
All of the museums above a great to visit, so I hope you enjoy seeing one or more of them, depending on your interests.