The announcement that Porsche is about to open a new museum is hardly surprising news, but it does complete the roster of German auto musuems. VW has one in Wolfsburg, BMW has one in Munich, Mercedes-Benz has one in Stuttgart, Audi has its Forum in Ingolstadt, and now Porsche has one in Zuffenhausen. (And Ferrari has its own new collection of designer buildings in Maranello, Italy; the NYTimes just published a piece on them.)
What they all have in common, of course, is that they were conceived with the intent of being architecturally significant. These are not just warehouse buildings with a stuffy collection of company memorabilia and vehicles; they are supposed to be testaments to their respective owners’ technological superiority and cultural dominance. Therefore, the automakers commissioned big-name architects and spent money freely to build temples to their brands. These are the German auto industry’s equivalents to Bilbao, intended to be destinations not just for marque enthusiasts but also architecture fans and cultural critics. It’s also a way for these old-line European companies to emphasize their heritage, something that upstarts from Japan for the most part cannot do.
Now that the dollar-euro relationship is a bit more comfortable for Americans, spring/summer 2009 seems like the perfect time for American car enthusiasts to wrap a European vacation around visits to these automotive shrines. Mercedes and Porsche can easily be knocked off in a couple of days or less, since Zuffenhausen is a suburb of Stuttgart. From there, it’s only a couple of hours to Munich to immerse yourself in all things BMW. Take in a beer garden or two and some of Munich’s other historical sites, and then it’s less than an hour’s drive north to the Audi Forum in Ingolstadt. From Ingolstadt, you’ll need about four or five hours to make the trek up to Wolfsburg, where Audi’s parent, Volkswagen, is ready to receive visitors at its Automuseum. In Wolfsburg, though, VW makes its stunning architectural statement not in its museum but rather in its new-car delivery center, the Autostadt. VW buyers can choose to take delivery of their new cars from one of the Autostadt’s twin 20-story cylindrical glass towers. The other German automakers, of course, offer similar delivery programs, all intended to make owners more dedicated to their chosen brands.