The Mercedes Benz Museum
Note: In this blog, I’m taking a side step from the usual Key West Blog, to share with the world an incredible experience I had, many, many years ago. As you’ll see, this experience was a very important part of my life, for which I am still amazed at to this day.
I was twenty one and I was going out on my big adventure. back packing through Europe! I had no desire in the least to travel with anyone. just go by myself. A lot of people thought this was very weird. Myself however, I thought it made perfect sense. This way there were no compromises and I’d do everything I set out to do. It worked out perfectly, as it turned out. I went to every place in Europe that I set out to visit. Some places were more significant than others, however I got to see them all! As this story is specificly about the Mercedes-Benz Museum, I’ll restrict this blog story to that visit.
The preamble to all of this was that my father, Robert C. Rehm, had been working for Mercedes-Benz of North America (MBNA) since 1963, shortly after MBNA was formed, and was instrumental in setting up their North American sales organization. So, I grew up with the firm, so to speak. Every couple of months, my dad would come home with a new car that the company assigned him. This was an era where there weren’t all that many Mercedes on the road and passing cars would always wave to each other. Dad brought home over those years, the greatest assortment of cars! 200, 200D, 220D, 230, 250S, 250SE 280S, 280SE,280SEL, 280SL, 300SEL, 300SEL 6.3, 450SE, 450SEL.. I think he brought home virtually every model that was in the product line over those years, with the exception of the two 600 models! The only person in the organization who had one of those was the CEO of MBNA, Karlfried Nordmann, whom I met once at a company family get together.
In those early years where I was somewhere between seven and eight, my dad brought me home a book, “A Racing Car Driver’s World”, by Rudolph Caracciola, perhaps the most famous racing driver of his era (1925 – 1953). The book was fascinating and I loved every paragraph! Easily one of my favorite books I’ve ever read. I still have it to this day.
Reading this book was more of a passion than anything else for me, I found it tremendously exciting to read about the races, fellow drivers, and of course the cars themselves.
While Mercedes-Benz was ingrained into my soul, I also couldn’t help but love the competition as well. The Auto-Union of the thirties, was Mercedes’ biggest rival and what a car it was! It looked so sinister with the engine behind the driver. The engine was magnificent as well. Sixteen cylinders and designed by Dr. Porsche, for the first several years.
In one passage Caracciola talks of a time where in a press gathering, he and Auto-Union driver Berndt Rosemeyer, switched cars and gave them a run. Imagine that today? I don’t think so HA HA HA! They both agreed that the ideal car for 1937 would have an Auto Union engine and a Mercedes transmission… albeit, with the engine in the front.
The bottom line here was of course, that I learned everything I could about all of the Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix and record cars (in 1938 a Mercedes-Benz record car set the fastest official speed ever recorded on a public road. It still stands today, 76 years later).
I knew these cars like the back of my hand and I read about them day in, day out for fourteen years, so, as you can imagine, visiting the famous Mercedes-Benz Museum was a top priority for me, to see these cars I had only read about prior.
I first landed in England and toured their before I went to the Continent. I was in Munich and mentioned to a few fellow travelers in the youth hostile I was staying at, that I was planing on going to Stuttgart to see the museum. This was always met with the same answer “Oh Stuttgart is an industrial city. It’s all Mercedes and Bosch”. Obviously I wasn’t going to give their advise any attention. I was going to Stuttgart, no matter what they said.
When I arrived in the Hauptbahnhof (train station) as soon as I alighted from the train, a local approached me with a friendly smile and asked “Are you looking for the youth hostle?” in English. I said I was and he gave me directions. On the way there, I’m guessing it was maybe six or eight blocks, I was approached by at least three other people offering to help me find the youth hostile, all with a friendly smile and a sincere attitude of giving visitors a warm welcome. Forget what the tourists said in the Munich youth hostile (Munich itself was wonderful!), I found Stuttgart to be a very friendly city. I tied it for being the most friendly on my entire European tour, with London.
The next day was my big day and I set off for the Daimler-Benz factory, which within it’s complex was the Mercedes-Benz museum. It was a somewhat cold day in October as I crossed the Neckar River and saw the outside of “The Wall of Death”, the Mercedes test track that I’d seen so many times in the Mercedes magazine “In Aller Welt”, that my dad would bring home. What a thrill!
After passing that, there was an entrance to the factory compound with a guard house. I approached the guard house and in my best German, asked the guard inside how I could see the museum. To my stonishment and dismay, he told me that the museum was closed. When I heard this I exhaled and it seemed that every ounce of enegry left my body. The guard saw my disapointment and went on to explain that a terrorist group, the Badder Meinhoff Gang, had kidnapped and brutally murdered a board of directors member of Diamler-Benz and that the factory was closed to all outsiders.
I was so dejected, but I fully understood. The needs of the safety of the firm out weighed the dreams of my own As I turned to leave, I had only one option that I just thought of. I pulled my wallet out and handed the guard my father’s Mercedes-Benz of North America business card. I told him that was my father and he asked me for my passport. I didn’t hesitate. The last names matched of course and he looked over at me and said “Ein moment, bitte” and he picked up the phone to make a call.
He was on the phone for quite a while,making a series of calls, obviously talking to different people and waiting on their replies. After about a half hour, he stuck his head out of the guard house and said in English “Welcome! You’re one of the family!” and shook my hand with a smile from ear to ear. He informed me that they had arranged for a car to come out, pick me up, and bring me to the museum. I was elated, yet a bit confused. The bottom line was, I was going to the museum!
What had turned out happened was the guard called a director of the facility, who in turn called someone else higher up the chain of command, who did likewise until one of them called my dad at MBNA in New Jersey, who confirmed who I was. Amazing!
After a few minutes, a black 220 airport style limo comes and picks me up at the guard house. I thanked the guard profusly. I know I made his day, as much as he made mine. An executive was in the car and greeted me warmly. As we drove to the museum, within the complex, he talked about how sorry he was that the museum had been closed, but it was a securty situation we all had to deal with.
When we arrived at the museum we walked up to the front door and he pulled out his keys, unlocked it, entered and… really… turned on the lights. He mentioned to me to make myself at home and stay as long as I liked. He would be in an office there if I had any questions, as he had some work to do. He also mentioned that later in the afternoon, there were people from the U.S. picking up their cars on what is known as, the European Delivery Program and were going on a factory tour in Sindelfingen, if I wanted to go, I could.
Here I was, they opened up the Mercedes-Benz museum just for me. I couldn’t believe it! I was in a state of both shock and gratitude. Nonetheless, I spent about three hours, looking at all sorts of cars, but spent most of my time around the racing cars W25, W125, W154, W156, W165, W196.
Even the still-born Type 80, that Hans Stuck Sr. and Dr. Porsche had as a project with Mercedes-Benz, designed with a Daimler-Benz DB 601 aircraft engine but never run, for the world land speed record, was there.
A few hours later, I was off by a special factory bus to the Sindelfingen factory, to see how the product was manufactured, with a group of people picking up their brand new Mercedes-Benz cars. I rode the bus back to the main facility in Stuttgart and had a great conversation with the tour guide about all things Mercedes-Benz.
To this day, decades later, I am completely blown away by the acts of kindness and compassion, by so many people at Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart. They all went so far out of their way to help a member of the “Family” see his dream come true. I felt it extremely important that this experience be documented.
Mercedes-Benz built an all new museum several years ago. I felt it important to mention this amazing act of kindness that was extended to me years ago and I hope I do get to visit the new facility one day!
As a songwriter, one day I’ll write a song about this incredible experience.
Of course, I write this from my own perspective, however it goes much deeper than that. What was exhibited here was a sense of loyalty of workers to the firm they worked for and the belief that together they were all a team. Here we had a series of employees, from a guard at a gate, to super high executives all pulling together for the sake of a co-worker’s son. Strings were pulled, a lot of strings were pulled and in a day where overseas calls cost a fortune, that didn’t matter the calls were made. They actually opened the museum for me, a twenty one year old wearing a flannel shirt and hiking boots. That has always instilled a serious sense of pride of being a part of such an organization.
I am eternally grateful to all at Mercedes-Benz and to every one in the firm, I say “Thank you und Vielen Dank!”
Christopher R. Rehm
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Thank you everyone!!