The Brooks family has a love affair with the country of Germany. Whilst most Brits head off to sunnier climes for their summer vacation, year after year, we head to Europe’s largest country, and always have a wonderful time. I wrote earlier in the year about visiting Miniatur Wunderland, in Hamburg, but we’ve also been to Munich, Nuremberg, Berlin, and regularly visit the Neuschwanstein Castle area of Bavaria (you know the castle; the one King Ludwig built after visiting Walt Disney World).
This summer we headed to Stuttgart, a place almost nobody from Britain goes on holiday. There isn’t, on the face of it, much to entice you there, yet despite being an industrial city, Stuttgart is not an unattractive destination. Nestled in between rolling hills, covered in Riesling vines, the city also contains acres of parkland, and was much greener than I expected. It also has that laid back, friendly efficiency, that makes Germany such a great place to visit with children.
Stuttgart is a motor city, home to both Porsche and Mercedes-Benz. These two, top German marques, have their headquarters here, and both sites have museums that are open to the public. Both had come recommended, but which was better?
We visited the museums on separate days, with our three boys, and we visited the Porsche Museum first.
Much as you might expect from design-meisters, Porsche, their museum is an exercise in understated elegance. You enter and travel upwards through automotive history, starting with the earliest Porsches.
Over two floors you take in everything great about Porsche. I’m not hugely into cars, and know almost nothing about them, but there is something undoubtedly beautiful about Porsches. In the 70s and 80s section, I was reminded of the cars many of the other boys in my school class used to drool over. This museum definitely has nostalgia value.
There are very good audio guides available, for free, which detail the finer points of the museum and there are children’s versions too, though to be honest my children barely listened to them. My four year old enjoyed it most, pretending it was a walkie-talkie.
As we reached the top of the museum, my boys were more interested, mainly because we arrived at the really expensive modern sports and supercars, and a mocked up ‘Sally’ Carrera from the Pixar movie Cars.
The best thing about the Porsche Museum, if you’re bringing the kids, is its children’s section. Housed on the floor above the main museum space, there is an area where little ones can really enjoy themselves. Here parents can relax knowing that their rioting, mini museum-goers, aren’t upsetting any performance car aficionados.
Up here, there were two Porsche driving games, complete with pedals and steering wheel, a racing cockpit, that people with unfeasibly small legs (or children) can fit into, and a number of craft activities, including decorating your own water bottles and lunch boxes.
Outside, on the roof, there was a track with remote control Porsches to race around, which sounds much better than it was in reality. Only one of the cars worked, so the opportunity to race was lost.
The Porsche Museum, obviously, is a must for car fans, but it’s small enough, and Porsche is such a design classic, that there is enough for even the most ambivalent of petrol-heads. The building is interesting too, and the understated restaurant does some tasty food. It’s a quiet oasis after all the cars.
A warning to those parents taking children to the shop; there’s slim-pickings in the affordable toy car bracket. There’s hundreds of expensive collectibles, that look amazing, but are not suitable for small hands. We had full scale meltdowns, twice over in the shop. On the plus side, we did get a few freebies with the purchases we did eventually make. A promo-Porsche poster, and a plain black, architect’s-model of a Porsche.
The Mercedes Museum, is simultaneously better and worse than its Porsche rival. Firstly, it’s much bigger. This might be good, or it might be bad, depending on your family’s museum stamina. The major issue we had is that there almost nothing to entertain very little children.
There’s a single garbage truck they can sit in, but other that, across four floors and several exhibition spaces, there’s nothing. Our four year old just shuffled around whining, “Where are the children’s? Where are the children’s?”, like an impossible to shake Doctor Who monster. In the end, he could only be appeased by a trip to the café, which immediately split the family party.
The museum itself, if you’re not four, is very interesting. Mercedes don’t just make high performance sports cars, their vehicles pervade through all walks of life, making the history of Mercedes-Benz, much more a social history, as well as an automotive one. Starting with the invention of the motor car, including beautiful mock-ups of the very first attempts at powered transport, and moving right up to the present day, the museum presents a fascinating look at the progress of the motor car, and its impact on social attitudes.
For avid car fans, there are a host of beautiful cars from throughout time, and even for auto-indifferents like myself, there are some beautiful cars to look at. At the Mercedes Museum, you take a lift to the top and work your way down a large spiral, moving through, what the museum calls, “The Legend”. Off to the side, on each floor, are additional chambers that host “The Collection”, each one detailing specific aspects of Mercedes’ function. These spaces are called, the “gallery of carriers” (buses and transporters), the “gallery of helpers”, (police cars and fire trucks), the “gallery of voyagers”, and the “gallery of celebrities”, most notable for its inclusion of a Popemobile.
Despite the lack of interactivity, my older boys, preferred this museum. Both were captivated by the audio-guide, when they had been indifferent in the Porsche Museum. I’m not quite sure why this should be, but even my never-listens, seven year old, listened for over half an hour. I asked him why, and he said, “It told me the information I wanted to know.”
The all-important shop experience in the Mercedes-Benz Museum is better than at Porsche. There are more things for little hands, including a much better selection of affordable cars. We came home with an iconic green and grey Polizei wagen.
If you’re in Stuttgart, and like cars, then clearly you’re going to love these museums. If you’re short on time, and like a little style, then go to Porsche Museum. If you’re after some social history, have plenty of time, and don’t have a preschooler, then I’d recommend Mercedes. Of course you could always do both, and now is a great time to do that, as currently, a ticket to one museum will offer a 25% discount to the other.
Finally, if you are still in need of transport fix, or like trains, you must go to Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof. Currently a building site, because of an enormous restructuring of the rail-network, you can still visit its tower, which has great views of the city. It’s free to go up, and from the top, you can see all around Stuttgart and its surrounds. It’s great for train watching, and, a few feet above your head, revolves a giant Mercedes sign. At the moment, the various floors of the tower hold interesting exhibits about the regeneration project. My oldest son spent ages urban-planning his own community on a simulation they had running. Whatever you are doing in the city, make time to go up the station tower.
Disclosure: I was given free access to both museums in order to write this review.