The German Car Miracle: How Germany became the country of cars

In 1888, Bertha Benz embarked on a journey to prove that her husband Carl’s Motorwagen was safe and ready to sell. Fast forward to the present day, and Germany remains a country of premium cars and car culture.

How Germany became the country of cars

Something magical happened as we drove to the Black Forest’s edge in south-western Germany. The man behind the wheel, Edgar Meyer, turned onto a medieval road barely wide enough for an ATV.

The air was filled with the sweet scent of vines and birds chirping, and the only sound was the hum of Meyer’s vintage BMW. We were driving through the busy town of Dossenheim, yet we felt completely alone on this peaceful little lane.

This road is actually a small detour off the Bertha Benz Memorial Route, a themed drive that Meyer created. But according to him, this little lane is the closest thing you can experience to the primitive roads that Bertha and her teenage sons encountered in August 1888 on their historic road trip. It was the world’s first road trip to its first petrol-powered car, changing the world forever.

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Bertha Benz, the wife of Carl Benz, was a fearless automotive pioneer who took a 194km round-trip drive between her home in the city of Mannheim and her mother’s place in Pforzheim.

She did this without her husband’s knowledge, driving the Benz Motorwagen No.3, a slightly modified version of Carl’s original Motorwagen. The Motorwagen was the first automobile and was patented in 1886.

Bertha had invested her wedding dowry to help finance her husband’s work, but their invention was struggling. The skeptical government officials had barred the Motorwagen from the roads of Mannheim. In one disastrous early test drive, horses and dogs had gotten terrified at the motor noise, bolting into the crowds.

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Bertha took the prototype out for a highly illegal spin to prove that the Motorwagen was safe and ready to sell. This was a radical declaration and a private message to Carl, encouraging him to have the courage to carry on.

It wasn’t only Carl who invented the automobile; it was the team of Carl and Bertha

Back in the day when there were no road maps or GPS, Bertha – a strong and brave woman – had to rely on rivers and railroad tracks to find her way to her mother’s home. She was travelling in a buggy with wooden wheels powered by a 2-hp, four-stroke engine. Bertha and her husband Carl believed in the Motorwagen and were always working on it together.

They both played a significant role in inventing the automobile, but Bertha’s contributions were often overlooked. In 2008, a researcher named Meyer mapped Bertha’s route, which loops through different cities, towns, and villages. He wanted to give Bertha the recognition she deserved in history. Bertha’s journey was not only brave but also a little crazy, which was probably the reason her plan succeeded.

I recently went on a road trip through the south of Germany to explore the country’s rich history of luxury car manufacturing. Seeing so many car museums and other attractions dedicated to car culture was fascinating. My guide, Meyer, told me that looking at a country’s history from a different perspective, like the history of cars, can be a great adventure.

The first car was the Motorwagen No. 3, created by Carl Benz in 1888. This invention changed the world and made cars a popular mode of transportation. Today, Germany is still known for its luxury cars and car culture. Over half of all European cars are designed in Germany, and two-thirds of all luxury cars sold worldwide are German-made. This is quite impressive, and it makes me wonder why Germany is so good at making premium cars.

During the 19th century, mechanization took hold in Europe, particularly Britain, France, and Germany. In some parts of Germany, complex inheritance laws split family farms into smaller pieces, making agriculture unprofitable and leading to people finding creative ways to earn a living. This situation eventually led to a hotbed of entrepreneurship and heavy industry in the region, where Carl Benz graduated and began working as a mechanical engineer.

The success of German automakers can be attributed to several factors, including their passionate enthusiasm and attention to detail. For example, at the Technoseum in Mannheim, an authentic Porsche factory car assembly line has been reassembled piece by piece as a life-sized diorama, including the bottles of beer that workers received during shifts.

The corporate motto of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG), today Daimler AG, creator of the Mercedes-Benz brand, was “The best, or nothing,” which shows their commitment to excellence.

While not all Germans possess these qualities, being industrious is a very German quality that many people strive for.

The people of Germany love cars. They enjoy making and improving them and especially driving them. The country is also very beautiful, especially during the summer.

The view from the car window is of farmland, yellow fields of rapeseed, mountains, forests with castles, and medieval villages with old, wooden houses.
Germans love cars more than just as a way to get around.

They see them as a part of their culture, and many people collect and care for old, valuable cars. Some museums, like the Auto museum Dr Carl Benz in Ladenburg, are dedicated to cars and their history.

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