When you are credited with creating the automobile, you had better damn well have a nice museum to prove it. For years, Mercedes-Benz housed its collection in a modest three-story complex adjacent to the company’s Stuttgart headquarters. The old museum was last overhauled in 1985, and despite the update, it still contained only enough room to display the company lineage through the 1970s. In 2004 construction started on an all-new facility that would hold not only the current collection, but also provide space for what will no doubt continue to be a long history as one of the world’s most important carmakers. That new museum opened in May of 2006 and since then has welcomed a couple million visitors to its entirely modern, nine-story concrete and glass domain. We were last in Stuttgart about a year before the new museum was complete, so when we found ourselves in town recently with a day to kill, we decided to check it out for ourselves.
The new museum is vastly different than the low-profile rectangular building that served as the old museum from 1961. Designed by HG Merz for the UN studio design firm, the building is a free-form sculpture with no perpendicular surfaces. Constructed primarily of concrete and glass, it towers more than 150 feet above the ground below it. Despite its nine-story figure, there are no formal floor levels within the museum itself. The museum’s exhibits are contained within a double-helix configuration, with a ribbon of floor that winds up and down the interior walls.
The structure is an impressive piece of design and engineering all by itself, never mind the exhibits within its walls. More than 100,000 tons of concrete were used to complete its main edifice. The glass skin is made up of more than 1800 panes, no two of which are identical in dimension. You may have seen the museum in recent Mercedes-Benz commercials, which depict a car crashing through the walls of the building onto a showroom-like floor. One look at the complexity of this building leaves no doubt the commercial is entirely the work of a talented effects crew.
Despite its occasional appearance as a TV backdrop, the museum’s primary business is celebrating the nearly century and a quarter of automotive history. The experience starts in the parking garage, where select models are contained on display to put guests in the mood for what is inside. Visitors enter the museum one level above the main floor, which houses several restaurants and an amazing gift boutique. Once you’ve paid your entry fee (Eight Euros for adults, four Euros for seniors, and no charge for children under 15) you have the choice of traveling from the bottom up, or from the top down. For us the first stop was one of the three silver Orwellian space-capsule-like elevators with windows that look down onto the main floor nine stories below, where the tour takes patrons to the top level to start a chronological history of the company’s work.
As you’d expect, the first is an exhibit of the 1886 Daimler Patent Wagen. The one on display is not the actual vehicle, but rather a faithfully reproduced, fully functional replica made by the factory’s own workshop staff. The progression through time focuses on much more than just the work of Mercedes-Benz; special displays show off other commercial products of the same era as the cars on display, putting the automobile into its proper social context each step of the way. And unlike the previous version of the Mercedes-Benz museum, this one not only acknowledges the Holocaust under Adolf Hitler, it also admits the company’s place in industry under his command. In the past, exhibits included cars through the mid-1930s and those from the late-1940s onward, with no explanation of the decade in between.
As you wander your way through time, there are special exhibit rooms with unique collections of similar type vehicles. Each area has its own focus, ranging from race cars to service vehicles, showing off the great depth of product offerings from the Daimler corporation throughout time. Our favorite was no doubt the motorsports exhibit, where so many of the world’s legendary racers are held. Additional exhibits under the theme of “Fascination” delve into the company’s research and development vehicles, and the often-groundbreaking technologies that resulted from them.
It’s recommended that you give yourself an hour and a half to see all the exhibits, but there’s so much history on offer, right in front of you, that it feels like rushing to get through there in such a short time. Any real automotive buff, Mercedes fan or otherwise, could spend the better part of a day taking in the wonder and significance of the place.
Taking a break at the museum is as much a treat as the main event, with so many great cafes and restaurants on the premises. We enjoyed a relaxing full-service meal outdoors, white cloth napkins and all, for about $15 a person. It’s refreshing to have dining options beyond McDonalds or Subway or KFC, none of which have a presence anywhere on the grounds.
When you’ve had your fill of historical vehicles, you can make your way to the adjacent factory showroom, a vast two-story exhibition of virtually every model the company currently offers. The location also serves as the site where tourists can take European delivery of their new Benzes. Admission is free, and it’s safe to say there’s not a Stateside dealership that can match it for variety or space.
On the list of places every car enthusiast should visit, the Mercedes-Benz Museum ranks near the top. The company’s influence across the industry is undeniable, and the museum dedicated to that history of leadership not only displays its own progress, it also does an excellent job of connecting the automobile with its place in the hearts and minds of people the world over.
- Mercedes-Benz is located in the city of Stuttgart, about a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Munich.â€¨
- Stuttgart is also the home to Porsche, who also has an excellent museum just twenty minutes away in the outskirt village of Zuffenhausen. It’s entirely possible to do visit both museums in the same day if you start early and find some caffeine in between.
- The museum is closed on Mondays, but open Tuesdays through Sundays from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Ticket counter closes at 5:00 PM.â€¨â€¨
- Admission costs &euro:8 for adults, &euro:4 for seniors, children (15-17) and students. Kids under 15 are free.
- On-site parking is available for &euro:1 per hour for the first three hours, then &euro:2 per hour afterward.
70372 Stuttgart, Germanyâ€¨
Phone- 0049 (0)711 17 30 000