Munich, March 2010
The BMW-Museum in Munich right beside the corporate headquarters first opened in 1973. The heritage protected building by the architect Prof. Karl Schwanzer has become one of the town´s landmarks called “Museums-Schüssel” (“museums bowl”) and featured the company´s history for about 30 years. In 2002 the lack of exhibition space made a new concept necessary.
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Whereas other companies decided in the same period the construction of a totally new museum for one or the other reason BMW made the decision to extend the existing building. The bowl itself was restored back in the original state and the close-by flat-roofed part of the headquarters was added to increase the available space from about 1000 sq.m to more than 5000 sq.m. The original bowl now contains the temporary exhibition and the new part of the museum has become the permanent part of the exhibition. The museum now features more than 120 exhibits.
The permanent exhibition consists of seven separate houses containing seven different aspects of the heritage. These houses are arranged round a central place and interconnected by ramps to give a three-dimensional tour through the different rooms of these houses. During this tour you cross the central place several times from different directions to get different impressions of the architecture. The ramps are covered with a special sort of tarmac to give the appeal of being on the road. The houses itself are covered with a special façade consisting of milk glass and millions of LEDs to enlighten the interior. The façades at the central space are changing the light and their content permanently to generate a dynamic rather than a static display.
The first house is dedicated to the design. In the first room of the tour one can see an innovative illustration of the design of the cars over the last decades. Small balls are visually wafting in the room to show a metamorphosis between different cars of different eras. The second floor is dedicated to the design division and shows a working clay model of the current 1-series and a design study of the interior. The bottom floor is the “treasury” with 3 examples of cars and motorbikes from the past to the future design.
Beside the design the second main focus of BMW has always been an advanced technology. So it is no surprise that the second house is dedicated to this part of the history.
BMW was founded as the “Bayerische Motorenwerke” (“Bavarian Engine Works”) in 1916 to produce aero engines, so it is not a surprise that the emblem of BMW symbolizes a turning propeller in the blue sky. Some early examples of these aero engines are displayed in the engine gallery.
With the end of the first world war and the ban of the production of military products in the Treaty of Versailles BMW had to seek for other scopes than aero engines. In 1923 the first motor bike (the R32) and in 1928 the first car was introduced but the engine always stayed a main aspect of all following BMW products. So the engine gallery with some of their most successful examples and a separate room for the different innovations in this sector are the main rooms of this house. Further rooms are dedicated to the lightweight construction and the aerodynamic.
From this point the history spreads into the construction of motor bikes and cars. One house shows the development of the motorbikes over the last 87 years from the first example R32 to the latest models. The car section is divided in the different series rather than different eras. It is very interesting to see the development of the luxury series (the “7”) side by side presented on a very noble wooden floor. Another room is dedicated to the sportive M-series including the legendary M1 and the still popular M3 and M5. One of the most beautiful rooms in the museums features the very sympathetic Isetta and the BMW 2002. The cars are illuminated by some lamps in 70s style and surrounded by hundreds of contemporary pictures showing these cars as part of the owners family.
The most interesting house for some visitors might be the motorsport section. Unfortunately the room is very limited so there are just few exhibits. The BMW 328 MM Touring Coupé that won the Mille Miglia in 1940 might be the most interesting example of this very successful pre-war 327/328 series. The BMW 328 was the dominant 2 litre car right before the war and is still very sought-after today. As the original coupé car can be seen in motion at events like today's Mille Miglia or on display at the Concorso d´Eleganza sponsored by BMW at the Villa d´Este the visitor of the museum has to put up with a replica of this car. Unfortunately there is not enough space to present other derivatives like the MM Spider or an “ordinary” roadster.
The formula 1 is represented by the first world championship winning BMW-powered car, the Brabham BT52 and one of the last of the BMW-Sauber era, the F1.06.
More important for BMW than the formula 1 is the touring car racing history as this clearly shows the sporting ambition of BMW street cars from the 1966 BMW 2000 TI to the new M3 GTR.
Further houses show the chronology of the company. This includes the development of the brand from the beginning as an aero engine manufacturer to the international operating company plus the development of the production. This also includes the darker part of the history with the forced labour during the war, a part of the history that is not always shown that unvarnished in Germany, even 65 years after the war.
So the conclusion of our visit is that this museum has a very different approach to the theme than some others. Compared to the new museums of Porsche and Mercedes-Benz it is much more unimposing from the outside leaving this to the nearby BMW World, a very modern glass architecture. On the other side the architecture is much more part of the concept on the inside. Whereas the Porsche-Museum with its plain white interior leaves all attention on the cars the BMW-Museum intends to be a complete artwork. This makes the museum more interesting for all those who are not purely focused on the cars (or bikes) and gives you more different impressions. On the other side one could have the opinion that in some stages the cars are faded from the spotlight by the architecture, at least the architecture is very consumptive of space. So some important cars are missing due to the lack of space even in the new museum.
But this is the concept of the future with more multimedia that did not even stop from the Schlumpf Collection that was the epitome of the pure car museum in the past.
Text & images: Peter Singhof www.ClassicCarPhotography.de