Outside it looks more like some giant, half collapsed toadstool. A cross between Dubai airport and space-age shopping mall, BMW's eye-catcher is more about experience than aesthetics.
Billed as an “adventure and delivery centre”, BMW Welt is Munich's third biggest tourist attraction, just behind the English Garden and Marienplatz. Joining me for a guided tour is my class of Tourist Management and Hospitality students. We're treated to a V.I.P. behind-the-scenes look at where customers pay a pretty premium to pick up their new cars in style. A showroom for some of BMW's most flashy and costly vehicles. Like the Fantom Rolls-Royce, price tag 450 000 euros. Christina our guide explains how 450 man hours have gone into building this work of art. And they clearly haven't skimped on accessories. Opening the passenger door, she slides her hand into a side pocket and pulls out a telescope-shaped case, out of which pops an umbrella. It’s all very larger than life, and I'm almost expecting James Bond to come round the corner any moment, jump in and speed off in a cloud of dust.
Models and more
Instead, however, Christina leads us past a plug-in hybrid i8 (above), which she describes as “cutiful”. I’m debating whether to stop and have my photo taken, when our guide beckons us round the corner into a mini cinema. After a flashy publicity film on the BMW brand – more hui than pfui as they say here in Bavaria – a roller shutter behind the screen rises to reveal line upon line of vehicles stacked one over the other. Just this moment a rack robot glides past, hooks itself up onto the car directly in front of us, and carries it off. This is one of around 100 vehicles which are united every day with their owners, and we're about to see such an event “live”. In BMW-talk it's known as “premiere”.
Returning to the main concourse, we find ourselves on a
walkway suspended over vehicles ready for collection. “See over there”, says Christina, pointing to three persons standing at the stop of a Hollywood-like staircase. We watch how a car suddenly starts revolving, remote controlled by a pinstripe-suited BMW ambassador. Customers can book from a range of “premiere plus packages”. Little extras include rose petals strewn over the bonnet, a sea of balloons descending from the ceiling, and – for those with matrimony in mind – a wedding ring furtively stashed away in the glove compartment. We don’t actually see any one go down on one knee – rose stem between teeth – but, given German males’ greatest passion is for cars, no doubt this happens regularly.
|BMW Welt - Half airport, half Star Trek|
Since I’ve asked my students to review BMW Welt as part of their course work, I look later at comments other visitors have left at TripAdvisor. These range from “A car head must” and “Classy, efficient, unpretentious” to “Too much capitalism”. One visitor proudly describes himself as “BMW hypnotised”.
The nicest thing about BMW Welt, I'd say, is that it's admission free. You can wander around and sit in a brand-new luxury vehicle for nothing. After saying goodbye to my students, and making sure no one I know sees me, I quietly slide behind the steering wheel of the latest Mini Cooper Hardtop. A sublime “only-if” feeling tickles my tummy. I'm awoken from my daydream by a friendly Chinese American touting a zoom lens, asking if I'd like my photo taken. Of course I would.
BMW Welt is not really selling cars, it's selling lifestyle. For me cars are simply about getting from A to B. Function over frills. The thought of measuring my status by the Auto I drive doesn't appeal. And yet for once, just for once, I'm slightly overcome by the glitz and glamour of all these awesome dreams on wheels. Possibly, quite possibly, I too have become “BMW hypnotised”.
Ah, blow the next holiday Down Under. Where do I put my signature?