Mercedes-Benz can claim the longest history of any automotive brand: It traces its roots back to the three-wheeled Karl Benz Patent Motorwagen of 1886 and Gottlieb Daimler's horseless carriage of the same year. Today, in the German city where the auto industry was born, DaimlerChrysler is wowing domestic and foreign visitors with the spectacular Mercedes-Benz Museum, which claims to be "the only museum in the world able to present the 120-year history of the automotive industry from day one."
The current building replaces a museum from 1961 that attracted some 500,000 visitors per year. It's a remarkable structure for many reasons, including the techniques that were used to design and build the cloverleaf-inspired building with its complex geometrical shapes, "double helix" interior layout, and 1,800 triangular panes of glass (no two of which are identical).
What you'll see:
When you visit the Mercedes-Benz Museum, you'll enter a large atrium with three elevators that run along exposed tracks on the concrete walls. During your ride to the top floor, you'll view projected automotive video clips on the atrium's concrete walls. (The images are projected from the elevators, so they ride up with you to the top floor.)
On the ninth or uppermost level, you'll have a choice between two routes: The chronolological or "Legend" route takes you though 120 years of Mercedes-Benz automotive history, while the other, with its "Collection" exhibits, displays passenger cars, buses, and trucks by category or function (such as travel, freight hauling, and emergency services).
The two routes intersect at each level, which means that--for example--you could begin by following the chronological "Legend" route and cross to a "Collection" room on each level as you followed the gently spiraling ramp downhill. (If this sounds complicated, don't worry; seeing the entire museum is much simpler than it sounds, though you should plan on spending at least two hours, and preferably half a day, to sample the museum's full range of exhibits.)
You needn't be a car buff to enjoy the Mercedes-Benz Museum: The exhibits include interesting tidbits of social and political history, celebrity cars (such as the Jurassic Park "Lost World" sport-utility vehicle and John Paul II's "Popemobile"), and video terminals. The 33 "Extras" add touches of intrigue, intellectual stimulation, or whimsy. (For example, there's a display for the Wunder Baum pine-tree air freshener, shown at right, which was invented in 1951.)
The Mercedes-Benz Museum's exhibit labels are among the best I've seen in any museum, and audio guides are offered in eight languages, with special children's audio texts available on request.
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Top, second, and fourth photos copyright © Mercedes-Benz.
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