Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart

1st Car at Mercedes Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany

The world’s first automobile invented in 1886 by Karl Benz.

The Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart is one of the largest tourist attractions in Stuttgart featuring 1500 car exhibits.

I’m not particularly interested in cars, but was curious to see why the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart was such a popular tourist attraction. I know many people that haven’t visited any other museum in Stuttgart, except for the Mercedes-Benz Museum.  I was intrigued to find out why and for this reason, it was also on my list of 12 Places to Visit in Germany, all of which are part of my Travel New Years Resolution of exploring closer to home.

 The museum is architecturally interesting.

The museum is one of the most popular attractions in Stuttgart.

The first thing I learned was that contrary to what many North Americans believe, the automobile was not an American invention, but a German invention.  No surprise to the Germans, but quite a shock to some Americans who may think that the automobile was invented by Ford.  Karl Benz (a German) received the patent for the first car, 125 years ago in 1886, which is pictured above.  2011 is a special year for Mercedes-Benz as they celebrate the 125th birthday of the automobile. I really enjoyed learning about the early “cars” and seeing how the car has evolved over 125 years.  The Mercedes-Benz Museum is much slicker than the Stuttgart Tram Museum, but I enjoyed learning about Stuttgart’s 140 year tram history as well.

The world's first four-wheeled automobile invented by Gottleib Daimler, another German.

The world’s first four-wheeled automobile invented by Gottleib Daimler, another German.

 

Headset control  to guide you through a self-guided customizable tour.

Visitors can customize their visit with their headsets. Very cool!

The second thing I learned about the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart is that it is busy, far busier than any other museum I have visited in Stuttgart.  It is also huge – 9 stories and 1,500 sq m.  That’s a lot of cars, especially for someone who isn’t all that interested in cars.  Despite that, the Mercedes-Benz Museum does an excellent job of tying in history and what was happening at the time.

In addition to signs in both German and English, each visitor also got a handy headset, which you could customize to your interests.  I really enjoyed this aspect of the Mercedes-Benz Museum, and focused on the “Social Trends” section since that was more interesting to me than hearing about the cars.  I really liked how the head set was customizable, but I didn’t think the “For children” info was all that child friendly and  in some cases was down right boring.

What surprised me most about the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart was the acknowledgment that the company, Daimler-Benz (which produces Mercedes-Benz) cooperated with the Nazi Regime.  Prior to the Nazi Regime, the company had government contracts and when the Nazi Regime came into power, the contracts continued, but increasingly the work shifted to arms production.  By the start of World War II arms production was two-thirds of Daimler-Benz’s revenues.  Furthermore, the company also employed forced laborers, hired from the Nazi Regime and by 1944, half of the Daimler-Benz workforce was forced laborers.

Early car model

One of 1500 exhibits on display at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart

Upon learning this, I felt sick to my stomach.  How could such an esteemed brand have such a sordid history?  Knowing that in retaliation the arms factories were  prime targets for the Allied bombers was little consolation, when you think of all the forced prisoners that would have been killed as well.   My German friends were more pragmatic about it – if the management of Daimler-Benz hadn’t have cooperated they would have been put out of business by the Nazi Regime and many (if not all of the top management and their families) would have instantly been seen as enemies of the Nazi Regime and would have become  at best prisoners or at worst tortured and killed along with their families.

Early Car To Daimler-Benz’s credit, they did admit to their involvement with the Nazi Regime, apologized to the forced labors, offered financial aid to the forced laborers and became a champion of human rights.  I’ve read a lot about World War II, but my visit to the Mercedes-Benz Museum was the first time I had thought about how businesses and business decisions were related to the Nazi Regime.  I still feel repulsed by the history, but appreciate any museum that makes me think  and one month after our visit to the Mercedes-Benz Museum, I am still thinking about it.

The popemobile, used for Pope John Paul IIs visit to Germany. Built in 1980 with bullet proof glazing, that would still let the public see the Pope.

The popemobile, used for Pope John Paul IIs visit to Germany. Built in 1980 with bullet proof glazing, that would still let the public see the Pope.

Despite making me think, that is not the overarching theme of the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart and not what I think most people would walk away with.  While I really enjoyed learning about the history of the first automobiles,  liked the customizable head-set, and the sleek, modern building and amenities, and admit the museum is well put together, frankly I don’t see what all the fuss is about over the Mercedes-Benz Museum, although it’s not a bad way to spend a rainy afternoon.  I openly admit I’m not that interested in cars, but then I didn’t think I was overly interested in pigs either, but thoroughly enjoyed the World’s Largest Pig Museum, also in Stuttgart.

To me a good museum is one that makes me interested in a subject that I didn’t even know I was interested in.  The Mercedes-Benz Museum definitely had my attention in places, but not consistently.  If you happen to be in Stuttgart for a week or so, it’s worth a trip, but if you’re only here for a day or two, check out the World’s Largest Pig Museum instead (unless you really happen to like cars) , or one of the other fine museums Stuttgart has to offer.

 

 

Comments

  1. Laurel says

    @Grace – LOL, the Popemobile is the most famous Mercedes driven by a VIP and I can see why. It was one of my favorite parts of the museum!

  2. says

    Just amazing how Mercedes cars and all automobiles have developed and changed in just over 120 years or so! Interesting fact about being involved with the Nazi regime, I had no idea before.

  3. Sara says

    I’ve never been to that museum, but while I was studying in Ingolstadt we took a tour of the Audi museum/factory. Now, I am not a car person, but I loved the tour. It was fascinating. I had no idea how much of our history and world events were reflected in the cars we drove or longed to drive.

  4. Laurel says

    @Yvonne – You’re such a traitor :) (For those who don’t know, the Mercedes-Benz headquarters are in Stuttgart, BMWs are in Bavaria)

    @Migrationology – 125 years is a long time when it comes to the automobile. I had no idea about the company’s involvement in WWII either, until I visited the Mercedes-Benz Museum.

    @Robin – That might be a tough sell, but ya might get lucky enough to SEE the pope in an updated version of the popemobile :)

    @Sara – I didn’t even realize there was an Audi Museum, but I really shouldn’t be that surprised. A factory tour sounds interesting. I live near the Porsche factory, but I don’t think they do tours.

    @Inka – I used to go to a museum once a year or so, since I moved to Germany it’s been a few every month, there’s just so many wonderful museums in Germany. I agree, the cars, especially the earlier ones really are works of art and I love learning about the history behind them.

  5. says

    I’m dying to go to this museum. It was designed by one of my favorite architecture firms in the world, plus the exhibit is really cool! Hey, I can’t miss that Popemobile! 😉

  6. Laurel says

    @Norbert – The architecture of the building is very interesting and people always have a reaction to it when they see it the first time. And the Popemobile is almost a good enough reason to go in itself :)

  7. says

    Looks like a very cool place to visit. I’m not a big car fanatic, but would definitely be interested in seeing some of these. My dad would have absolutely loved this museum. The building is quite impressive, too!

  8. Laurel says

    @Barry – I’ve never been to the Carriage Museum, even though I only grew up an hour away from it, but not making the same mistake twice and actually have a plan in place to explore my current city and surroundings

    @Cathy – I’m not a car fan either, and while I did find some parts of it really interesting, I do think that a car fanatic would get more out of it than I did. I stare at the building every time I drive by, I find it impressive as well.

  9. Chris says

    Great pictures, Laurel. I had the pleasure of touring this museum in 2007 with the building scientists (Transolar out of Munich and Stuttgart) who assisted in the design of the smoke exhaust tornado in the atrium of the center of the museum. We never got to see the tornado in action, but the tour of the vehicles was very interesting. You can check out the website for a video of the tornado http://www.autoblog.com/2007/10/26/mercedes-benz-museum-contains-world-record-artificial-tornado/

    Cheers,
    Chris

  10. sharon gullikson says

    I have a problem with them aiding the Nazis, too. So many people claim that they would have been tortured, killed, etc. if they hadn’t done what they did, it’s usually a cop out. It’s easier on their consciences, and makes them look better, if they said they were forced. Those who are truly honest have said that they DID have a choice…..

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