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Volkswagen's Autostadt in Wolfsburg / © Emanuel Raab, Autostadt
© Emanuel Raab, Autostadt
Temples to the Automobile - Germany's new car museums

February 27, 2008

by Oliver Sefrin

German carmakers are now presenting their products in big interactive museums – the new temples to the mystique of marques and mobility.

They have to be the ultimate in car showrooms – futuristic and fascinating. The elite of German carmakers have caught the museum bug, showcasing their products in impressive interactive complexes. Here, architecture and design encounter the past, present and future of marques and mobility, highlighting the technical sophistication and ingenuity of the German car industry.

Volkswagen was the pioneer: Europe’s biggest carmaker opened its Autostadt (Car City) in Wolfsburg in 2000 – and launched a trend among global German brands to build cathedrals to the automobile. The world’s oldest car manufacturer, Mercedes, followed suit, completing its own galactic garage in Stuttgart in 2006 – a labyrinthine, spiral building made of 110,000 tonnes of steel, glass and concrete. Germany’s latest automotive centre, BMW World, opened last autumn in Munich. Like its competitors, Bavarian carmaker BMW had invested hundreds of millions of euros and commissioned renowned architects for its design icon – with the distinctive double cone and glistening glass façade. The Big Three have just finished their temples, and already the next one is taking shape. Porsche, the small but top-notch sports-car firm, is building its own museum to mobility in Stuttgart – the spaceship-like design promises to be the “most spectacular building project in Porsche’s history”.

Whether you take Volkswagen, Mercedes, BMW or Porsche, Germany’s leading car manufacturers are among the world’s most highly valued marques. And their museums are superlative business cards with a novel appeal. In these temples to the automobile, the car becomes the attraction – and a destination for an outing. These days whole families visit to immerse themselves in the world of the car. Take Wolfsburg, for example. Some two million visitors a year have been going to VW’s Autostadt since it opened, making it the second most popular theme park in Germany. The car is not just exhibited here, it is the focus of a stage production. At VW and BMW, car freaks can drive off straight away in the vehicle they have ordered. And Porsche is even planning a repair shop for veteran cars. All these manufacturers see their architectural ambitions as a good investment, a recipe for success. The museums affect the way people see the brands and influence the respective company’s image. In a period when the technology, design and luxury features of many models are becoming increasingly similar, one factor in becoming increasingly important: emotionality. And where else would you expect to feel emotionality more intensely than in an interactive museum-cum-showroom?

VW Autostadt in Wolfsburg

Volkswagen Group’s Autostadt (Car City) is a pioneer of the lavish, modern car museum in Germany. And yet, what VW opened next to its main factory and corporate headquarters in 2000 is much more than just a museum. It is an automobile theme park, complete with luxury hotel, and has attracted over 15 million visitors to date. The park landscape with its many lagoons covers about 25 hectares and cost about 430 million euros. Its main attraction is the two glass car towers. The Autostadt takes you on a journey through the world of mobility, based on the slogan “people, cars and what moves them”. The attractions include tours of the production plant, a museum, a design studio, training courses for drivers and a pick-up centre for new cars.

Porsche Museum

Am Porscheplatz 1 is the address of the new museum that is being built by the sports-car manufacturer in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen. According to Porsche’s CEO Wiedeking, the new museum will depict the company’s 100-year-plus tradition even more vividly than before. The building’s architecture is spectacular, resembling a dynamic, monolithic body. The bold design by the Viennese architectural firm Delugan Meissl features a huge exhibition room which seems to float above the ground and is supported by only three pillars. This gem of a structure will cost Porsche well over 50 million euros. From the end of 2008 visitors can experience the mystique of the marque with 80 sports cars and a repair shop for vintage cars.

Mercedes Museum

The tour of the Mercedes-Benz Museum begins with a remark made by Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1905, that the car would be a “temporary phenomenon”. Of course, His Majesty has since been proved wrong by the marque with the star, which launched the age of the automobile in 1886 with the combined ingenuity of Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz. Over seven floors, amidst award-winning architecture, the museum (which came with a price tag of roughly 150 million euros) leads its visitors through the company’s 120-year history. It exhibits a total of 160 cars, plus all manner of technical triumphs and innovations, as well as information on the company’s history.

BMW World

The Bavarian Motor Works opened their interactive museum centre – BMW World – in October 2007. The carmaker invested half a billion euros in the building, which is situated next to the company’s Munich headquarters, the high-rise Four-Cylinder Building and the BMW production plant. BMW had its car world designed as a new showpiece for this ensemble by a renowned architectural design firm, Coop Himmelb(l)au from Vienna, who are well-known for their unusual ideas. BMW World features a great expanse of glass, a floating “cloud roof” and the building’s trademark double cone, all of which does full justice to the brand’s dynamic self-image. The aim is to attract around 800,000 guests a year (equalling Mercedes) with exhibitions, an Events Forum and restaurants. BMW’s pick-up centre aims to hand over 45,000 new cars a year directly to customers. The neighbouring BMW Museum, which is currently being refurbished, reopens in the spring.

© Deutschland Magazine
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