Visiting Germany – Part 7: The weird & wonderful at the Munich Transport Museum
In Malaysia, there are no large automobile museums to visit. Our best bet is the National Automobile Museum at the Sepang circuit. I was very lucky to get to visit almost all the automotive attractions in Germany before the COVID-19 situation took place. One of the places I had the chance of visiting was the Deutsches Museum Verkehrszentrum, which is a transport Museum in Munich. Oh, how I wish we had something like this in Malaysia.
If you’re staying in one of the hotels in Munich, this should be in very close proximity. My father-in-law and I just had to take a short stroll to get there. The exhibition was about three-halls large and if you stopped to appreciate every single machine, a single day would not be enough.
Being a transport museum, there are bicycles, trains, buses, trucks, motorcycles, a helicopter, cars, and much more. I’ll give more focus on the cars and talk about the bicycles a little bit. Since I spent two years of my life trading and fixing bicycles, I have a soft spot for these contraptions.
Given the virus situation that we are in right now, I’m sure a brief virtual tour of the museum can make things a little less boring for those of who desire to travel. The internet is full of things fighting for your attention, so if you’ve somehow ended up here, I hope you enjoy what you see & read.
The cute and quirky
There was a time when cars were really small. It had something to do with the oil crisis. These cars definitely didn’t have crumple zones and the wheels were so tiny that you could almost play frisbee with them.
There’s the BMW Isetta, Messerschmitt KR175, and the Heinkel Kabinenroller. All three cars look like they belong in “The Jetsons”.
The ones that could have made it, but didn’t
If there’s one thing that I took away from this visit, it was the fact that things were very industrious and competitive in the transportation industry and that not everybody made it through. A lot of these car brands that were on display are not really heard of these days. Some are defunct and others have dominated entirely different industries.
Had history took a different course, young and chic people might be desiring the “Baby” instead of the "Beetle". They were both conceived in the same era but the "Baby" was expensive. More accurately known as the Steyr Type 50, the “Baby” was designed at the Steyr factories by Karl Jenschke.
Another alternate history could have resulted in us desiring “Bakers” instead of “Teslas”. Baker produced an electric car way back in 1899.
They were actually quite successful and in 1909 made a special electric brougham for the King of Siam.
Baker merged with Rauch & Lang in 1914 and made electric cars known as “Raulangs”.
They later reverted to the original business of coachbuilding and made the bodies for the Model A Ford. Rauch & Lang ceased operation in 1928.
Allow me to deviate from cars for a little while to fawn over some old bicycles. It was interesting to see people get creative with the configuration and see the evolution of simple systems for braking, damping, gearing, and the drivetrain.
I’ll mix in some stuff from motorcycles here since at this stage in time, motorcycles were basically bicycles with an engine hanging by the side.
The suspension setup was very intriguing to observe and was an art that you could appreciate on its own. The complex shapes are well complemented by the good finish quality.
The Rubber Crisis also forced people to get more creative with tire design. Various materials including cork and springs were used before synthetic rubber became the norm.
Newer bicycles were also on display to showcase how far we have come. Modern day electric bicycles with the battery pack integrated into the tube are probably one of the most elegant solutions to lightweight urban transportation - the fundamental shape of the bicycle is undisturbed.
Having used a bicycle to commute every day for a good two years, one bicycle that caught my attention was this black bicycle. I think it’s called the “Canyon Commuter”.
The integrated headlights, integrated mud flaps, and sleek tube design are nice to have.
One thing I’m a little sceptical about would be the belt-driven wheels. I just prefer the good old derailleurs.
The search for a viable alternate energy has begun before the 20th century. The motivations may have been financial or political but whatever it is, it’s interesting to learn about. The standard electric car and hydrogen fuel cell car are on display at the museum.
There’s the B-Class Mercedes that uses hydrogen fuel cells and there’s the MINI E, which now has a successor in the form of the MINI Cooper SE.
Electric cars and hydrogen fuel cells as a topic for alternate energy have been exhausted to the point where I feel like throwing up. Yes, they’re great, but let’s look at the wilder attempts at alternate energy.
Take this Adler Diplomat 3GS for example. (No, it’s not a phone). The car ran on wood. And even the normal way you think wood would be used. There’s no steam engine and there’s no woody woodpecker under the hood generating kinetic energy.
The Adler Diplomat used the gas obtained from wood gas generator. The process of truning wood into charcoal actually produces combustible carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2). This gas is then fed into the combustion chamber like a normal ICE engine.
The energy density isn’t very high and this meant carrying a lot of wood with the car. Not the most efficient machine, but it sure made one crazy steampunk-looking car.
Another wild attempt would be the Elko Elsbett engine which could run on straight vegetable oil (SVO). There are no gay vegetable oils, SVO just means straight from the source and not processed to make biodiesel.
The fundamental is a diesel engine but the injector nozzles are self-cleaning to allow the use of more viscous vegetable oil.
This same engine model is on display at the MPOB (Malaysia Palm Oil Board) since it was once used in one of Tun Ghafar Baba’s Mercedes-Benz.
Being used in Malaysia, it is obvious that the fuel of choice would be our very own palm oil.
Autonomous technology has come a long way
One of the most memorable displays would be this autonomous Mercedes-Benz S-Class from 1994. Not because it was a Mercedes-Benz, but because of the fact that it was loaded with computers on the inside.
The autonomous system was developed by the Munich Institute of System Dynamics and Flight Mechanics. The autonomous system was visual-based. In their test, the car managed to drive from Munich to Copenhagen almost entirely by itself.
The maximum driverless speed achieved was 175 km/h.
Today, most cars come equipped with a semi-autonomous system minus the bulky computers. Wonderful stuff.
Are there more displays at the Deutsches Museum Verkehrszentrum?
Yes, of course there are. There are race cars, sports cars, trains, trucks, and a helicopter. I just shared what I found most interesting to me. If you have the chance the visit, and hopefully this COVID-19 situation passes, we could all go back to enjoying the basic luxuries of life.
Here a few more final photographs for your viewing pleasure.