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Classic Mercedes Benz rsz

An Automotive Legacy Began in the Heart of Mannheim, Germany

There was a time when “driving a Benz” meant operating a three-wheeled, open-air carriage glorified by the world’s first purpose-built, rear-mounted internal combustion engine. The vehicle, which navigated the roads of Mannheim, Germany, on solid rubber wheels only marginally wider than a Schwinn bicycle’s, was the brainchild of Karl Benz, innovator and engineer extraordinaire. The year was 1885, and Benz’s Motorwagen had come to fruition a mere eight years after his first successful invention of a gasoline-powered two-stroke piston engine – a remarkably quick development in terms of 19th century innovations.

By Karl’s side was his wife, Bertha, whose dowry had financed the invention, and who had great understanding of its potential to change transportation for good. Also ahead of her time, the entrepreneurial minded Bertha took the newly-patented Motorwagen on the road to gain it publicity. The story goes that her husband was unaware that she had taken the car, along with their teenaged sons, but it’s doubtful he minded. The 194 km road trip from Mannheim to Heidlberg to Pforzheim (in the Black Forest) achieved its goal of showing off this new-fangled method of transport, and even inspired other inventions. Along the way, Bertha noted that the brakes were worn and she was not equipped with replacements, so she went to a local shoemaker and he fashioned brakes out of leather nailed to the brake blocks, effectively inventing brake linings.

Karl Benz Memorial
A memorial to Karl Benz and his inventions in Mannheim, Germany

Every two years, the town of Mannheim commemorates Bertha’s fortuitous road trip with a parade of automobiles that follows her route.

The name Benz is still synonymous with automotive innovation, of course, and the city of Mannheim is where this legacy began. It is still home to Daimler, the automotive giant with whom Mercedes-Benz eventually merged.

Man-Powered Running Machine

Before Benz began the quest toward the modern luxury driving machines sought after today, another Karl, Baron Karl von Drais invented the “running machine,” also known as the “draisienne,” the “laufmachine” and “Vélocipède.”  In 1817, Drais introduced this two-wheeled horseless vehicle propelled by a single rider. You know it as the bicycle, and it, too, began in Mannheim. He first demonstrated his invention before the entire town in June of that year, when he completed a nine-mile loop used by the postal service in a quarter of the usual time.

Mannheim welcomed more groundbreaking transportation throughout the 20th century, including the Lanz Bulldog tractor in 1921 and the first rocket-powered aircraft in 1929, firmly establishing Mannheim as the place for innovation and industry.

The famous water tower in Mannheim, Germany, is one of the iconic beautiful sites to explore.

Hot Spots and High Notes

Mannheim is actually the place for many things. A university town on the banks of the Rhine and Neckar, Mannheim is pulsing with hubs of diverse food and drink, art exhibitions and galleries, shopping districts and numerous festivals and events that bring visitors here each year. The regal National Theatre hosts opera, ballet, plays and other musical performances, while the second largest baroque palace also presides here.

Notably, musical and artistic culture of Mannheim is strong due to the presence of the University of Music and Performing Arts, Baden-Württemberg Pop Academy and the Independent Art Academy, providing abundant opportunities to explore the creativity of the past, present and future.

Visit Mannheim and discover its legacy of innovation, invention and enrichment on 2020 Crystal River Cruises.

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