PHOTO: Sally Carrera at the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, Germany. (photo by Jason Leppert)
When I first perused the listing of shore excursions that were available from Adventures by Disney off AmaWaterways’ AmaKristina on the “Once Upon a Rhine” itinerary, a pair of German car museums first jumped out at me. The Mercedes-Benz and Porsche museums from the port of Mannheim to be exact were high on my list for an all-day adventure, and the brewery lunch in between was certainly a cherry on top.
All Adventures by Disney excursions are included in the base fare, and this tour was no exception. Even the lengthy two-hour bus (a Mercedes-Benz coach appropriately enough) ride to Stuttgart, where both museums are located, was enjoyable thanks to Adventure Guide Danny’s own enthusiasm for cars.
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In fact, he whet our appetite for what was to come with some interesting trivia including the statistic that one in ten of all Germans in some form works in the auto industry. He also tested our knowledge by asking which of the two brands is represented by a famous Disney character, the answer to which is Porsche thanks to Sally Carrera from the animated film “Cars” (pictured in reality above).
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Gear heads rejoiced as we first arrived at the Porsche Museum, a suspended wedge of a building, architecturally reminiscent of a classic futuristic EPCOT building (referencing the Walt Disney World theme park’s original all uppercase spelling). Inside, however, it’s all modern, even starting in 1898, when remarkably the company’s beginnings included the development of an electrically motorized car, initially on display at the top of the entry elevators.
The museum collection consists of over 600 cars, and all are kept in working order at an on-site workshop including the next in succession, the first true gas-electric hybrid car built to extend the range of the exclusively electric one before it. From there, the progression of vehicles heads into racing and even a bit of a historical crossover with Mercedes-Benz during the Daimler days.
Before long, the iconic Porsche shape came into being thanks to the hand-formed aluminum Typ 64, also on display at the museum, that was eventually realized as the Typ 356. The 911 that is known today was actually once known as the 901, but its nomenclature was disputed by Peugeot who also employed a naming system of central zeros. So, it became the 911, and the rest is history.
One of the 911s on display is actually Sally Carrera, and Adventures by Disney had the special chance to take pictures with the vehicle, voiced by Bonnie Hunt in the movie, more up-close than most visitors get a chance to, snapping a group photo around the picture car. Coming full circle is the final Porsche on display. In order to achieve its high speeds, the 918 Spyder hyper-car is a hybrid itself like the one from over a century ago.
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Meanwhile, the afternoon stop at the Mercedes-Benz Museum was equally fascinating, with a building that once again looked like something straight out of a science-fiction film. Its space-age elevators first took us to a reminder of what the first S-Class looked like: a single horse. The three-pointed star logo was then explained as a representation of historically motoring by sea, by air and, of course, by land.
Mercedes-Benz actually began life as two companies – Daimler and Benz – and Mercedes was actually a trademark named after the daughter of an entrepreneur working with Daimler. During war-torn hard times, the former also made bikes and typewriters, and the latter made sewing machines. To stay afloat, the two merged in 1926 to become the company we know today.
All the while, Mercedes-Benz was crafting fine automobiles. At a time when Ford was building cars in volume in the United States, it took the German auto manufacturer five months to build a 500 K Spezial-Roadster, including one month for just the paint to dry. Eventually, Mercedes–Benz began large-scale production as well, and the museum edifice progresses through its history into safety and crash testing in the 1960s. Our tour guide conveyed that the company invented airbag and ABS (anti-lock braking system) technology, for instance.
While the plan was to watch “Cars” on the bus ride back to the riverboat, the DVD playback continued to freeze, but a backup copy of “The Jungle Book” came to the rescue. Even if we had not had any movie to entertain us on the return trip, the tour was a blast well enough on its own. However, it has inspired me to go home and watch my own copies of “Cars” and “Cars 2” on Blu-Ray in honor of Lightning McQueen. Ka-chow!