Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart

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

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

I’m not particularly interested in cars but was curious to see why the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany 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 because I’m a big believer in exploring closer to home so that you feel like you’re always on vacation.

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.

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.

Headset control to guide you through a self-guided customizable tour.
Visitors can customize their visit with their headsets. Very cool!

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 headset was customizable, but I didn’t think the “For children” info was all that child-friendly and  in some cases was downright 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 labourers, offered financial aid to the forced labourers 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 bulletproof 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 headset, 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.

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