The long night of museums, Munich

Each year – for one Saturday evening – the museums in Munich stay open late. For 15 Euros one can purchase a ticket that gets access to the majority of museums and galleries in the city and ‘free’ travel on the buses that visit the museums split into four groups – Central, West, Schwarbing and East.

This year – 2012 – we decided to join in. There is a certain serendipity as to where one ends up. Having tried the Max Planck Institute, we opted for the Schwarbing bus and the BMW museum. My first time.

This museum is pure marketing – or propaganda. With that in mind it can be enjoyed. The building clearly borrows from the Guggenheim in New York in its bulbous appearance and interior walkways. The artefacts inside are immaculate. These range from cars, motorbikes, engines, film footage and marketing/advertising materials.

Whilst the museum says little about the company’s history in terms of its Nazi affiliations, some of the film footage of racing success in the 1930s cooly displays the Nazi symbols and sentiments of the time.

Modern era

The museum does not try to over display. There are some fine examples of vehicles, but the displays are not exhaustive. The room on the left is a good example of the museum’s approach. It is almost a case of the designers believing – probably rightly – that the exhibits speak for themselves. They are instantly recognisable – distinctive. Unmistakably BMW.

However, some of the vehicles seem out of line – though a BMW narrative is wrapped around their inclusion. For example, the Isetta bubble car. Far away is this vehicle from the high performance BMW products that preceded and succeeded it. Manufactured under licence from the Italian firm, Iso, which also designed and manufacturered refridgerators (see, the Isetta apparently buffered the company against hard times in the 1950s. The gallery’s walls are decorated with splendid period photographs of the German public taking their Isettas to places they presumably were not designed for; for example, the Alps. Television advertising footage is also to be seen.

The museum goes to great lengths, however, to spell out its design philosophy. They heap it on, just in case it was missed. The panel on the left is typical – written in German and English, the design philosophy is spelled out – ‘power of innovation’; ‘strong team’, ‘professional approach’ and ‘perfection’ are used to capture its essence. There are also many references to emotion engendered by careful selection and use of materials and colour in the interior.

The museum is only one part of the complex that constitutes what one might call the BMW quarter of the city. Opposite is BMW Welt – housed in a post-modern building that successfully conveys power, influence and intent.

The bendy Daimler bus took us swiftly back into the city. BMW never got into buses, oddly. The S-Bahn had a signal failure. Being stuck in a crammed stationary train for 30 minutes in the early morning brought us back to reality.

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