Every November hundreds of white-gloved hands stroke these magnificent vehicles. To touch a BMW 507, just once, during the ‘Night of the White Gloves’ is enough to turn Munich’s BMW museum into a place where dreams come true. When Heinrich Sieber polishes his model cars in the Schuco Museum, he likewise uses a very fine brush. A tale of two museums.
Heinrich Sieber, director of the Schuco Museum
The half-timbered building that houses the Schuco Museum stands in a prominent position at the market place of the village of Cadolzburg, in central Franconia, towered over by the imposing Cadolzburg castle itself. "I found this old house about eighteen months ago and immediately fell in love with it," says Heinrich Sieber. He leads us up the staircase alongside the ice-cream parlour on the ground floor and opens the door to his treasure house. The former Schuco director spent six months converting the building, investing about half a million euro. In August 2010, now retired, he moved his private collection to its new home: about 3500 items are exhibited in glass cases, including some miniature versions of BMW models such as the BMW M1.
Dr. Andreas Braun, curator of the BMW
In Munich’s BMW museum visitors can see about 130 exhibits, including cars, motorbikes, racing cars and planes. The choice of exhibits was not at all intended to give a chronology of the BMW firm, says the museum’s curator Dr. Andreas Braun. "We weren’t trying to provide a time-lapse history of past events, but to offer our visitors an innovative approach to the BMW brand." Accordingly, the BMW museum exhibits not just antiques – and classic cars – but also design concepts and future plans. Today’s models are on show next door in the "BMW World".
As long ago as 1973, BMW’s directors decided against using the museum as a marketing tool. It was created at the same time as the instantly recognisable "fourcylinder" BMW office block. The museum itself is a rotunda, known as "the Bowl", and originally provided 1000 square metres of exhibition space. Today it has 5000 square metres: between 2002 and 2008 BMW rebuilt the museum at a cost of 80 million euro, incorporating the flat-roofed building alongside which formerly housed a canteen and car park. It now contains seven glass- and steel halls housing a range of exhibitions. These halls are linked to the Bowl by a circular ramp, symbolising a road. "Going through the museum is like going through a town," says Dr. Braun. "There’s a new discovery around every corner."
Glass for greater transparency
The question of how visitors should be guided around, and exhibits staged, was also a challenge to Heinrich Sieber (63), who still works as an executive consultant for the Simba Dickie Group. He designed the museum with the help of his wife; the design is largely conceived to suit the available space.
Miniature meteors: Formula 1 models in the Schuco Museum.
"We wanted to fit the museum with old-fashioned cabinets, but that would have made the presentation too dark." More glass meant greater transparency - which also meant I could put in more cars," says the model car expert. "What’s more, the old beams are visible behind the glass cabinets, and I really wanted that." If you visit the Schuco Museum, it means you love cars. "It’s the over-fifties who have a real affinity with Schuco and know most about it," says Sieber. He doesn’t want to open his museum to the general public: rather he wants to give Schuco fans the opportunity to see his collection. "I’m always happy to open the museum for Schuco Clubs, design classes in colleges of further or higher education, or schools."
One of the favourite exhibits in the BMW Museum: the BMW 507.
In contrast, the BMW Museum attracts more visitors than any other museum in Munich except the German Museum: 410,000 annually at the last count. Most of them are aged between twenty and fifty, but many school parties also come, together with a steady stream of visitors from countries such as the USA, Russia and various parts of Asia. A highlight of the BMW Museum is the "Night of the White Gloves": the fourth one will take place on 25 November 2011. Visitors are issued white gloves and allowed, as a special concession, to touch the exhibits. "My colleagues in other museums advised me strongly against it," says Dr. Braun. "But nothing untoward has ever happened – and it puts an extra polish on the cars for the next day." On this night and during regular opening hours, the biggest throngs of car fans are always around the BMW 507 and the Isetta, which have become the public"s favourite exhibits.
Back in Cadolzburg, what really makes Heinrich Sieber’s heart beat faster is a 1954 Schuco fire engine. "It cost 49 German marks then; now it’s worth something between 4000 and 4500 euro." It’s also the most valuable exhibit in the collection Sieber has been assembling over the last 20 years.
The temporary ‘Welcome Home BMW Art Cars’ exhibition in the Bowl.
"The total value of the collection is somewhere above 100,000 euro, says Sieber. "Many exhibits are literally priceless." Dr. Andreas Braun could not put a value on the exhibits in the BMW Museum. He considers that the most expensive BMW of all time is a BMW M1 decorated by Andy Warhol – a pioneering BMW "art car". "This one car is insured for 25 million euro. But if it was ever sold the price would certainly be a lot higher." The BMW M1, designed by the legendary American artist in 1979, recently spent nearly a year as a guest exhibit in the Munich BMW Museum: the temporary exhibition "Welcome Home BMW Art Cars" ran until the end of September and featured almost all original 17 works of art in the collection; they had previously been on show in the Louvre, Paris, and in the Guggenheim Museums in New York and Bilbao.
Heinrich Sieber, too, knows how interested other museums are in his exhibits. For example, a joint special exhibition withthe Nuremberg Toy Museum is planned for this autumn. "I shall be taking a lot of Schuco models along," says Sieber as he locks the door to his museum. On the way out the ice-cream parlour catches his eye again. He treats himself to two scoops and smiles up at his oak-beamed treasure house.
BMW models are an integral part of the Schuco collection.