STUTTGART: Germany is celebrating this year the birth of the automobile, with a patent applied for by Carl Benz 125 years ago for a motorized tricycle, in hopes of drawing tourists smitten by cars.
The national tourism office has made the auto industry a highlight of its annual programme for the first time and the southwestern region of Baden-Wuerttemburg alone has organised 200 events from May through September.
Anyone travelling to the regional capital Stuttgart will not miss the Mercedes star that sits above the main train station or the posters that advertise the local auto museum.
Built at the base of a hill that dominates the city, the museum inaugurated in 2006 boasts a striking glass facade that covers a double spiral of steel meant to represent the automobile's DNA.
An elevator that emits sports car sounds takes visitors to halls that contain the first autos, invented almost simultaneously by Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler. They joined forces amidst an economic crisis in 1926 to form the company now known as Daimler.
Some 160 autos mark the evolution of the automobile, including shiny saloons (sedans) from the 20th century and gull-wing sports cars, all of which share the space with works of art by creators like Andy Warhol.
“With this exposition, we are conquering a new public, who will come maybe not for the autos but for the art,” said museum director Michael Bock. He expects the number of visitors to rise by five to 10 percent this year from the 2010 figure of 650,000.
“A very agreeable combination,” commented Dutch tourist Adriaan Raap, in his fifties, who was drawn by the aspects of automobile history.
Russian student Masha, 20, noted it was the only place one could see such a collection of beautiful cars, which she loves, because “this kind of museum does not exist in Moscow.” Daimler is not the only German auto manufacturer to present its models in a museum atmosphere. A futuristic space was also opened in Stuttgart in 2009 by the luxury sports car maker Porsche.
In neighbouring Bavaria, BMW has opened a centre in Munich that combines an auto delivery point with cultural events and an exhibition space that welcomed 400,000 people last year.
In northern Wolfsburg, Europe's biggest carmaker Volkswagen has built an “automobile city” that is something between an amusement park and science museum.
It also has a museum that vaunts the merits of its various brands, which include Audi, Bentley, Seat, and Skoda, along with restaurants and an off-road demonstration space.
Some 22.5 million people have come since the city first opened in 2000. “It is the most visited site dedicated to automobiles in the world,” VW spokesman Tobias Riepe claimed.
“German automakers have pulled out all the stops at the architectural level for their museums, which are also a showcase,” said Marie-Jose Suess, head of communications for the state of Baden-Wuerttemburg.
Possibilities for tourism are not limited to exhibitions by automakers, meanwhile. Tourists can take the “Bertha Benz route” used by the engineer's wife in 1888 to demonstrate that her husband's invention was suited to daily use, sleep in rooms with auto themes, or listen to a “autosymphony” created with sounds from 80 automobiles in Mannheim, where Benz applied for his patent.