Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Mercedes Benz Museum Tour

I have asked a few people here what the star attraction of the city is and I have received different answers on each occasion. Stuttgart Ballet was one suggestion (from a dancer) and the Mercedes Benz Museum another (from the Tourist Information). Wanting to be a proper tourist and take advantage of my naivete I chose the latter for today's main activity. I made my way there on foot, which is clearly not the concept, walked through the city park and noticed that there was a lot of construction going on near the station. They had thoughtfully provided a viewing platform from which the work could be seen. 

There are a few things worth noting. First of all the existence of this platform is curious in itself: they have turned the construction work into a display, a sort of low-level attraction in its own right. The next thing are the pictures that line the fence and form part of this display: computer generated paradises that make any of the inconveniences of the present excusable, even noble. The final thing is the tower that rises out of the train station. There is apparently an observation deck at the top of this tower, though it is closed right now for renovation and will open shortly. It strikes me that it can be very useful to have a vantage point within my tour of tours as this can allow me to talk about the places outside of the city-centre that can be observed from on high. This greatly expands my possibilities allowing me to easily talk about such attractions as the Mercedes Benz Museum, located out in a suburb of Stuttgart.

It is a large and stylishly designed museum that offers guided tours in English at 11AM Tuesdays to Saturdays. I found myself in the company of an American man and an Australian family and, together with our guide, we made our way through the exhibition rooms. She used a small microphone and portable transmitter that allowed us to hear her easily even from a distance. Not being a driver myself and not being so interested in cars I was expecting the worst but was pleasantly surprised that the curators had managed to expand upon the concept of a technical museum sufficiently to make it into something of interest to the non-geek. Our guide had to talk a lot because there was less distance between points of interest than there would be if this were an outdoor tour but she sustained it pretty well and personalised it in places making a point of showing me the Mercedes that The Queen was driven in when visiting Germany. 

The museum proposes two intersecting tours of the collection, a chronological one starting in the late 19th Century and a thematic one organised around celebrity's cars, racing cars and so on. They are able to do this as the museum's floor structure is constructed upon a double helix design. There was clearly some conceptual thinking going on here that is matched with architectural elegance and what's more, the results don't require a PhD to appreciate, it all flows quite naturally. There is of course a gift shop and restaurant, there is even a car showroom in the basement if you want to drive away in a new car. 

In summary I'd say they actually did manage to make a genuine tourist attraction out of a collection of historical vehicles. Of course it helps if you like cars in the first place but it can also work as a museum that sets out the context in which the cars were produced. These are two not contradictory ways to approach the place: as a collection of attractive cars and as a museum where you will learn something. Combining these two qualities seems appropriate to the city as I get the impression that tourism in Stuttgart tends towards being high-minded: there are many museums, cultural, historical and architectural points of interest. What I have not seen yet are any truly dumb attractions. OK I did pick up a brochure for Europa Park and that does look properly kitsch but that is a fair drive away and simply in the Baden-W├╝rttemberg region, of which Stuttgart is the capital.

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