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Tuesday, July 31 2007
According to a recent article in The New York Times, "BMW's Shrine to Horsepower," beginning this October, about 170 customers a day will be able to buy their cars through a dealer and, for a fee, pick them up at the cathedral-like showroom at BMW Welt (that's BMW World, for those of us who don't speak German), an ultramodern showroom in Munich. Rather than picking up their car at a local dealership, drivers who pay a little extra will find their car bathed in a spotlight and rotating on a turntable.
As Mark Landler writes in The Times, "Even in a country famous for its worship of the automobile, rarely has so elegant a form been harnessed to so mundane a function. 'Our dealers are like local churches, while BMW Welt is St Peter's Cathedral,' said Michael Ganal, BMW's director of marketing." BMW Welt is only the latest in a string of lavish, architecturally distinct "temples" erected by German carmakers to showcase their wares and bring visibility to their brands. Other German carmakers feel the same pressure, as last year Mercedes opened a sparkling new, futuristic Mercedes-Benz museum in its home city, Stuttgart, while across town Porsche is constructing its own ultramodern museum, which appears to hover above the ground. To some extent, BMW is playing catch-up, as Mercedes pioneered the delivery of cars at its factory in Sindelfingen, southwest of Stuttgart, in the 1950's.
The archtect of BMW Welt, Wolf D. Prix, of the Vienna firm Coop Himmelb(l)au, referred to Welt as "the Acropolis of Athens...It's a kind of covered plaza, where things can happen which are not necessarily connected with buying a car." Wolf continued, "Carmakers are taking over the role once played by the church or local princes: constructing landmark buildings." BMW recently hired Zaha Hadid, the British-based, Iraqi-born architect, to design the administration building for its assembly plant in Leipzig.
I couldn't help but think of the American-born poet and critic T. S. Eliot, who moved to the United Kingdom in his mid-twenties where he became a British citizen, and penned these prophetic words in his Choruses from 'The Rock':
"I journeyed to London, to the timekept City,
Where the River flows, with foreign flotations.
There I was told: we have too many churches,
And too few chop-houses. There I was told:
Let the vicars retire. Men do not need the Church
In the place where they work, but where they spend their Sundays.
In the City, we need no bells:
Let them waken the suburbs.
I journeyed to the suburbs, and there I was told:
We toil for six days, on the seventh we must motor to Hindhead, or Maidenhead.
If the weather is foul we stay at home and read the papers.
In industrial districts, there I was told of economic laws.
In the pleasant countryside, there it seemed
That the country now is only fit for picnics.
And the Church does not need to be wanted
In country or in suburb; and in the town
Only for important weddings."
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