Winfried A. Seidel had highlighted the significance of Ladenburg as a “Karl Benz Town” as early as 1996 when he opened the Dr. Carl Benz automotive museum. On an area of some 1,100 square meters, the museum today houses a collection of over 40 historical cars plus motorcycles, bicycles and automotive-history artifacts ranging from gasoline pump to winner’s cup. Many vehicles and exhibits are arranged in groups together with accessories and figures so as to convey the atmosphere of the relevant era.
Karl Benz’s work and heritage are reflected by vehicles from the Benz and C. Benz Söhne brands as well as by Mercedes-Benz models. Outstanding exhibits are the two C. Benz Söhne touring cars of 1924, a replica of the Benz Patent Motor Car, a Benz Victoria of 1893 and different models from the Benz and Mercedes-Benz brands. The collection comprises not only passenger cars but also commercial vehicles and racing cars, among them a Mercedes-Benz 190 SLR.
The collection also includes artifacts such as a ticket Richard Benz, the automotive pioneer’s son, was given by a junior forest warden for speeding. There is also the lithographic limestone with which Karl Benz had his business cards printed, his first lathe, an old textbook, his pocket watch and the first spark plug he had built.
Restoration of the historical factory
With its brick walls, semi-glazed roof and massive iron-girder structure, the interior of the historical C. Benz Söhne factory is a typical example of early 20th century industrial architecture. When Winfried Seidel acquired the premises and buildings to accommodate his Dr. Carl Benz automotive museum there, however, thorough restoration was called for in a first step. The cost of this was assumed by DaimlerChrysler.
After the move of C. Benz Söhne, restoration and reconstruction work began in October 2004, and this work had to meet the demands made on listed buildings in much the same way as the requirements arising from a modern museum concept. The historical substance was retained to the greatest possible extent. Facades were exposed and cleaned; the impressive iron skeleton construction inside the great hall was newly painted and now looks exactly as it does in the historical photographs. The old roof and the binders and joists were beyond repair, however, and were rebuilt in the traditional carpenters’ style.
A compromise was found for the floor covering, combining modern constructional engineering with true-to-the-original historical appeal: modeled on the floor shown in old photographs, a major part of the hall was given a wooden floor, with the old wooden strips replaced by solid industrial parquet. The areas underneath the cars are paved. The lighting also combines the style of the early 20th century with modern engineering: old factory lamps with black enamel coating are suspended from the roof girders, fitted with modern energy-saving bulbs.
A glimpse into Karl Benz’s office
With some 1,750 square meters, the new exhibition area is about a third larger than before, but Winfried A. Seidel will refrain from fundamentally changing the museum concept. On the contrary, the thematic focuses will be retained and in part expanded. Overall, the museum will in future present itself in a more generous setting, providing better opportunities for events.
In itself, the new museum impresses the visitor with its architecture and the unique lighting conditions created by the semi-glazed roof and the large windows with their iron glazing bars. The space conditions also provide the opportunity to create new exhibition scenes. Karl Benz’s old office can for instance be seen through a window from the great hall. Old machinery from the collection will in future be shown together with the factory’s historical energy transmitter facility; the themes of workshop and motorsport will be given their own rooms. A museum shop is being set up in the factory’s old foreman’s office.
The museum’s move this fall will revive the historical factory buildings, and one of the region’s industrial locations of historical relevance will acquire new significance and attractiveness. To underline the special position of the Dr. Carl Benz automotive museum, the latter will be the first collection to be granted the status of a partner museum of the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart.