The Deutsches Museum (German Museum) in Munich is the world’s largest museum dedicated to science and technology, divided into three facilities around the city. We checked out the newest, the Deutsches Museum Verkehrszentrum, which focuses on the history of transportation technology.
Opened in 2006, the Verkehrszentrum is housed inside three historic halls built in 1907, which originally established the city’s reputation as “Messestadt München” (Exhibition Center Munich). They were designed for trade expositions to help boost the region’s economy, which at the time was becoming a hub for automative innovation. Today, both BMW and Audi are headquartered here.
However, it was actually the forefather of Mercedes Benz who is given credit as the Henry Ford of Europe. In 1886, Carl Benz filed a patent application for a “vehicle operated by a gas engine.” He constructed his Benz Patentwagen, the first gasoline powered car in the world, out of bicycle parts and a 1-cyclinder engine. Top speed was 7.5 miles per hour.
While Benz might have been a genius engineer, he was a bit of a slouch at marketing. He was unable to find a market for the vehicle while he kept improving it through numerous iterations.
Enter the wife. Bertha Benz wanted to see some kind of return on the family’s significant time and investment spent on the 3-wheel contraption. So without the knowledge of either her husband or the authorities, she grabbed the couple’s two teenage sons and drove them 66 miles from Mannheim to Pforzheim. Thus, she became the first person ever to drive a vehicle over any considerable distance, and the resulting fanfare immediately created a market for gasoline powered travel.
The Benz Patentwagen is just one of thousands of exhibits inside the Deutsches Museum, and there’s something here that will turn anyone’s head. I liked the 1925 BMW R32, for example, the first motorcycle produced by BMW. Others fawned over the elegant 1928 Bugatti Coupe Type 40.