Automobiles break language barriers.
When you mingle with Czechs, Germans, Swiss, French, Austrians, and Italians in any European auto museum, you only need one universal translator to understand one another: And that is the automobile. In the eight auto museums I visited in 20 destinations of my European tour, I, along with all other automobile enthusiasts from all over the world, gravitated to the same iconic cars, touched the same metal beasts, oohed and aahed over the same engines, and gamely posed with the same shiny, moving landmarks of history.
In a nuthsell, here was my itinerary: At the Czech Republic, I went to Mlada Boleslav, to the Skoda Auto Museum, which portrays more than 100 years of automotive history. From there I went to Munich, Germany to check the BMW Welt and Museum. Then it was off to Salzburg, Austria to see the private collection of Manfred Rotschne (at the Manro Classic auto and music museum). Then off to Stuttgart to visit the Mercedes Benz and the Porsche museums. Then at Alsace, France, I checked on the National Automobile Museum in Mulhouse, and to Lucerne, Switzerland for the Swiss Museum of Transport. At Monaco, I gazed at Prince Rainier III’s private car collection.
I’m not kidding, folks. Here’s the amazing evidence:
The Skoda Auto Museum
I have to admire the Czechs for their remarkable loyalty to their own brands. At the Skoda Auto Museum, Libor Peichl’s family stood out. It wasn’t their first time to the museum. Just for being such loyal Skoda brand owners, I wished that the founders of the Skoda brand could now interact with Libor Peichl. The founders of the car manufacturing company in Mlada Boleslav were Vaclav Laurin (who was an excellent craftsman and engineer) and Vaclav Klement (himself an expert in organizations and commerce). The company would later be known under the brand name Skoda. At the museum, automobile classics of the 1900s are there for the (picture) taking, and be fascinated by the story of how MladaBoleslav was included in the race from Paris to Berlin.
From the main train station of Salzburg, it’s a 20-minute bus ride to the Manro Auto and Music Museum. Therese Rotschne, 20, daughter of real estate businessman and car collector Manfred Rotschne, 60, probably knows more classic cars than many other guys I know. The museum was opened in 2009 and features the classics, sports cars, racecars, motorcycles, and even old bicycles and musical instruments (Manfred used to be in a band). The façade of the Manro Auto and Music Museum is visible from the main road.
Munich, Germany – BMW Museum
The traffic-stopping BMW Welt at OlympiaPark 1 is a must-see. The area at Am Olympiapark 1, 80809, München is where the BMW Welt, the Museum, the production plant and the BMW world headquarters office building (which takes the form of a 331-foot-tall four-cylinder tower) are situated.
Stuttgart –Mercedes-Benz Museum
The Mercedes-Benz museum—a tall but compact building providing 16,500 sqm of exhibition space on a lot of only 4,800 sqm.–is perhaps the most impressive auto museum I’ve been in. The architecture alone is astounding: A silver structure with two floor glass panels, behind which is the transition between two exhibition levels and the big construction “twist”, an imposing, rounded gleaming body that rises 47.5 meters high to dominate the skyline. A silver elevator like a giant capsule takes you to the top of the building where the exhibition begins. The organizational principle is, like what Christian Holl, author of the “Mercedes-Benz Museum Stuttgart”, a double helix.
Visitors are transported back in time to 1886—to the birth of the legend that surrounds the pioneering invention of Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz. As one Legend room follows another, the chronological tour descends through seven floors and 125 years of automotive history.
Stuttgart Porsche Museum
For Porsche loyalists, this can be the best gift you’d ever give to yourself. Enjoy an up-close experience of the history of Porsche. The museum shows more than 80 vehicles, exemplifying the beginnings to the present days. Located at Porscheplatz in Zuffenhausen, it’s Porsche in an ambience that truly fits this phenomenal brand.
Alsace France – Cité de l’Automobile
This is probably one of the most prestigious car collections in the world, seeing itself as being to cars what the Louvre is to art. Check the Bugatti Royales, including the famous Coupé Napoléon, the 150 Bugatti, Hispano-Suiza, Ferrari, Rolls-Royce, Maserati, Maybach, and Mercedes models. It can be dizzying to try to take in the hundreds of cars from all the historical periods.
A former Mulhouse woollen mill, with its typically 19th century architecture, this museum began when Fritz Schlumpf established his fabulous collection of 437 cars belonging to 97 different brands.
The Royalty’s collection, Principality of Monaco
The private collection of His Serene Highness Prince Rainier II—over 100 of them—is housed in a 4,000 sqm area and categorized according to his wishes by class or period: Military, popular, veteran, vintage, sports cars, classic and prestige, with a special section for horse-drawn carriages. There, one can marvel at a De Dion Bouton 1903, Renault 11 cv 4 cylinder Torpedo 1911, Parnhard Levassor 1913, Ford T 1924 and models from Maserati, Jaguar, Mercedes, Rolls Royce and Chrysler fit for a king.
Swiss Museum of Transport
Among the eight I have visited, this is probably the most comprehensive. It shows the development of transport and mobility on road, rail, water and even in space. It also covers modern communications in a manner that is diverse and exciting. Over 3,000 items, covering an exhibition area of some 20,000 sqm are spread out and housed in attractions such as a film theater, planetarium, the Swiss arena and the Gotthard Tunnel Show. Rounding things off with the Hans Erni Museum, a visit to the Swiss Museum of Transport is nothing short of memorable.