Germany is a great place to visit if you are an auto enthusiast. Its car museums, production plants and even a car-driven family-friendly theme park are must-sees.
Many of the world's most prestigious brands - BMW, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen - are based there. And most feature major car-related attractions.
Car museums operated by BMW in Munich and Porsche in Stuttgart are being upgraded. Both will open next year. In the meantime the current museums for each brand are definitely worth a look. However, in Stuttgart, the recently opened Mercedes-Benz museum is reason enough to make a special trip. Housed in a stunning structure reminiscent of New York's Guggenheim Museum, it offers up Mercedes' lore and historic vehicles from its founding in 1886 to the present, and also its impact upon 120 years of German history.
|AUTO CITY - Wolfsburg, Germany, is about an hour from Berlin and home of what Volkswagen says is the world’s largest automobile production. It is also the site of Autostadt, a remarkable theme park. CNS Photos courtesy of Rainer Jensen. |
|CAR STORAGE - Car towers in the Autostadt in Wolfsburg, Germany, hold new vehicles for Volkswagen. These towers dot the 'Auto City.' CNS Photo courtesy of Rainer Jensen. |
|MERCEDES MUSEUM - Classic cars, old and new, are part of the draw to the Mercedes-Benz museum in Stuttgart, Germany. CNS Photo by Robert Selwitz. |
|TOUR DRIVER - Racing car veterans such as Wolfgang Kaufmann can take you for a spin around the legendary Formula racetrack at Nurburing, Germany. CNS Photo by Robert Selwitz. |
While the cars are gorgeously displayed, equally impressive is the "no-holds-barred" historic panoramas detailing the company's technical highlights, and also its entanglement with the Third Reich. Heavily involved in World War II military production, much of Mercedes' Stuttgart facilities were destroyed and subsequently rebuilt.
Occupying 16,500-square-meters on nine levels, museum exhibits are seen via a descending, yet chronologically advancing, 240-foot-long ramp. Starting at the top, which is devoted to the invention of the automobile, each "floor" covers such topics as "the birth of the brand, 1900-1914," "diesels and superchargers, 1914 to 1945," and "postwar miracle, form and diversity, 1945 to 1960."
There are also five separate "legend rooms," vehicle collections arranged according to function. These include passenger cars, buses, coaches, trucks and sports cars. All told there are 80 cars (from the 1886 Gottlieb Daimler Motor Carriage and Karl Benz Motor car to the latest series production vehicles), 40 commercial units, 40 racing and "record-breaking" vehicles, 19 engines, 3 rail cars, two aircraft and a boat. Allow at least two hours for a general overview, much more if you want to view various movies, or experience driving simulators. There are also a number of dining choices, shops and resting points.
A short S Bahn (rapid transit) or taxi ride from downtown Stuttgart, the museum is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day but Monday.
For a complimentary dash of car history, visitors should also take in the Green House, the parkland site of a secluded house where Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Mybach worked as secretly as possible to perfect the internal combustion engine. On hand are many of their original tools, plus a mix of models and original motorized applications that, for instance, turned a wagon intended to be horse drawn into what arguably became the world's first powered automobile. They also can lay claim to creating the world's first motorcycle.
Regensburg, 76 miles northeast of Munich and 62 miles southeast of Nurnberg - is 2,000 years old and one of Germany's best-preserved cities. Its historic center survived the World War II bombing essentially unscathed. Regensburg boasts one of Germany's two oldest Roman walls, plus a gorgeously preserved medieval town hall, elegant churches and squares. Along with its history, Regensburg is also home to a robotized BMW plant that offers visitors a free walk-through tour. After donning safety goggles, one views the paint works, watches robots meticulously mark welding spots, and align parts for assembly (watched but generally not interfered with by humans). You also watch teams of live workers assemble a huge variety of vehicles as they move along a quiet track.
A little more than an hour's train jaunt (138 miles) from Berlin lies Wolfsburg, home of what Volkswagen says is the world's largest automobile production plant, as well as Autostadt (Auto City), a truly remarkable theme park. Fun for the family, Autostadt is a distribution center where German, Dutch and Belgian car buyers come to meet, and then drive home, their new Volkswagens.
Auto City also offers superb Ritz-Carlton hotel and restaurant, pavilions displaying each of the company's brands (including Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini, Skoda and Volkswagen), a photo-bedecked historic automobile museum, activities including car simulators, a panoply of kids rides and diversions, movies, and auto courses that teaching drivers how to cope with hazardous road (or off-road) situations. Another highlight is the hourly bus tours that tour Auto City and also weave through working auto production and assembly sites.
Across the country, an hour's drive from Bonn, another great car experience awaits - the chance to drive or be driven around the legendary Nurburgring racetrack. Nurburgring is one of Europe's most hallowed racetracks and the site of past Grand Prix races. It is also a test track used by major manufacturers of shocks tires, brakes and suspensions.
Anyone can pay a $19 fee and drive their car, van or even motorcycle around the 13-mile track. However, drivers not experienced navigating sharp curves, or who are uncomfortable being lapped by others hitting 160 mph, are urged to leave the driving to the experts
Pony up more money and you can be driven around the track by experts such as race veteran Wolfgang Kaufmann. Drivers like Kaufmann know how to zoom around the track and keep the car upright, spin-free, and moving straight ahead. And, while the trip may take no more than seven or eight minutes, it's an unforgettable experience. It will give you a genuine appreciation of how difficult auto racing can be, and what it takes not only to compete but to survive.
Track officials urge visitors to check in advance whether the track is being used by a corporate client before going to the track. They also suggest visitors avoid the busiest times such as weekends, opting, if possible, for weekdays.
Also on site is a family-fun-filled museum packed with historic cars, and plenty of hands-on experiences including a very challenging racetrack simulator.
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© Copley News Service