Story by Bruce Sach
MUNICH, GERMANY — Next month, the automobile industry takes centre stage in Canada with the annual Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto. But for those car lovers who feel that one week of obsessing over vehicles, their speed and the parts under the hood isn’t nearly enough, then investigating the origins of many of these automobiles is sure to be tempting.
For me, a visit overseas rekindled my faint interest in cars. One of Munich’s major attractions is the BMW Welt (BMW World). Now there are a good 30,000 BMW cars sold in Canada each year, so I’m pretty sure that Bimmer owners would love this place. And, I’d be willing to bet that even those with zero interest in BMW cars would be very likely to discover their interest in things automotive at this huge museum/showroom.
You may have been aware that BMW (Bavarian Motor Works) started out as a motorcycle manufacturer. Well, you’d be wrong! The company started out as an airplane engine enterprise and by World War I had developed the most powerful airplane engines in the world, attracting height records that seem out of this world, even 100 years later — attaining a record height of 9,760 metres (32,020 feet).
Following World War I, German industry was not allowed to create anything related to war machinery so BMW got into motorcycles. Using the Ford Model T as an exemplar they then got interested in making cars and the BMW success story took off.
The BMW Welt complex is divided into seven different houses. The House of Design explained the BMW design process. The “Inspiration” room truly impressed me, with its creative ways of showing the beauty of design. (In particular, the sculptured shape of a car that is formed with hundreds of floating ball bearings.)
Permanent BMW design icons are featured in the Treasury. The House of Motor Sport showcased great winners: the 328 series and Formula One, and the motorcycles that have been involved in racing since 1923.
By 1954, BMW was creating a tiny car for two, with front-loading doors — a smart-car long before anyone had ever heard of the term.
There are many showrooms here, and the BMW factory is next door. Folks from around the world can order their car and come to Munich for pickup. Other huge showrooms display the current Mini Coopers and Rolls Royces — two brands that BMW now owns. Yes, they really like classic design here. And people who love design and have money flock to Munich from the Arabic states. Dining near toney Maximilian Street, we often heard Middle Eastern visitors drag racing their ridiculously expensive sports cars before they packed their multiple purchases into containers to be sent home.
Quench Your Thirst After a Day of Car-gazing
The BMW Welt cuts a huge swatch into West Munich. But factories from another era still occupy other important areas. The Augustiner Brewery is a massive structure looking as much a printing press building as a brewery.
Competing breweries make up a large component of the social life here, with many bars selling the beers of only one company.
All the major breweries and restaurants get together to form Munich’s leading attraction — the autumn Oktoberfest, which typically takes place for two weeks in late September and early October. More than 1.5 million people make it to this beer fest where crowds are so tightly packed that it looks like Beer Fest in a Bun, or to use a more common image, in a tin of sardines. The tradition started in the 1800s, when Prince Ludwig decided to set up a celebration for his wedding. Forty years later in 1850, it had become an annual event. By 2013, 6.4 million litres of beer were recorded going down the hatch every fall.
Beer, of course, can be enjoyed any time of year. The Hofbräuhaus is a highly recommended experience that includes huge steins of beer with large portions of meat that seem right out of “The Flintstones.” Curiously, the person in our party who ordered sausages had to wait 45 minutes whereas we got our brontosaurus-like “pig knuckles on bone” within minutes. (“Schweinshaxe” for those interested in living the experience.)
When you attend, you want to stay for the show, featuring ompa-pa bands, kids folk dancing and adult whippersnappers in leather shorts. The lederhosen-clad men really put on a show, snapping whips to the rhythm of the suddenly inspired band. Spontaneous singing and the raising of glasses from German and foreign tourists made everything seem quite authentic.
Art fans have a lot to choose from in Munich. My favourite art museum was the Lenbachhaus that showcases artists from the 1910s to 1930s — and the kind of modern art that Hitler and his thugs detested. The good news is that the surreal artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, August Macke and Franz Marc who were condemned, or whose careers were ended or delayed by World War I, are truly celebrated at this important art museum. Marc’s 1911 “Blue Horse 1” is of particular note, showing his take on the pure colour interest of the Blue Rider circle of painters. The works of contemporary artists such as Andy Warhol and Joseph Beuys can also be viewed.