July 08 2008   Story: Bryan Joslin

For many of us, owning a BMW is about more than just buying a car; it's a way of life, a defining statement. BMW understands this as well as anyone. In an effort to promote this unique relationship between its cars the people who live for them, the company conceived its own enthusiast destination called BMW Welt, (literally BMW World). Part auto show display, part shopping center, and part theme park, BMW Welt is dedicated to the whole BMW experience. We got a behind-the-scenes look shortly after it opened last fall and were blown away.

In stark contrast to the mid-century industrial complex that makes up BMW's main Munich "werks" directly across the street, the metal-and-glass sculpture that houses BMW Welt is entirely modern. Two main features define the building- the "cloud roof" and the Double Cone. The cloud roof echoes the architecture of the surrounding Munich Olympic Park of the 1972 games while covering the main exhibits inside BMW Welt. The Double Cone is a unique space reserved for special uses and cultural events.

Anyone can walk right into BMW Welt, and those who do will be greeted at the reception desk by helpful assistants. Continuing through the main floor, you'll encounter a display of selected new BMW models in a setting that is easily the classiest and most impressive showroom imaginable. The cars are all open for your exploration, and there is never a salesman breathing over your shoulder, so go ahead and dream about that M3 all you want.

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Behind the display cars is a boutique filled with all the BMW swag you could ever need. From keychains to die-cast models to golf bags, if it's in the BMW Lifestyle catalog, it's probably on the shelf in the store.

Around the corner from the boutique is a unique area called the Children's Campus. Inside, kids can learn not only about how cars work and how they are built, but also about the environmental considerations of personal transportation and emerging technologies that will affect the cars they will someday drive. Parents are encouraged to take part in the experience as well, and there's no doubt they probably learn a bit as well.

Across from the Children's Campus is a handful of interactive displays for the adults in your group. These include 2- and 3-dimensional activities that explain in simple terms the complex technologies that go into modern BMW vehicles. Drive a new M3 on the virtual racetrack, discover how VANOS works or look inside the engine of your new 3 Series, and when you're done, grab a refreshment at either the Bistro or the Coffee Bar- you'll need it. A fresh sandwich and a Coke will fuel you up for the rest of your visit.

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If you need something more filling than a light snack, get a table at one of the two gourmet restaurants that make their home at BMW Welt. The International Restaurant is located on the second floor, with interior seating overlooking the whole of BMW Welt, and an outdoor terrace that looks down on Munich's Olympic Park. Fare, as you might expect, represents a variety of international tastes, all prepared in the open at the restaurant's show kitchen. The third-floor Club Restaurant is a bit more exclusive, with seating for just 50 guests. Situated in the center of the Club is the Cooking Stage, where the chef interacts with guests as their meals are prepared.

Up to this point, you really don't even need to be a BMW enthusiast to appreciate the BMW Welt experience. And that's part of the plan. From the outset, the Welt was intended as a public place - there is not even a fee to enter - where locals could meet up for a coffee or where school children could stop by and marvel at the machinery on display. From the time you enter the big glass doors, there is no pressure on anyone to do anything or to be anywhere; you are free to linger as little or as much as you wish.

However, if you happen to be a die-hard BMW aficionado, three must-do experiences still await you. The first is the new BMW Museum, which officially re-opened on June 19, 2008 after two and a half years of renovation and display updates. The landmark "bowl" building now houses more than 120 exhibits. After the museum, take a tour of BMW's oldest factory, the main Munich plant. Guided tours originate at BMW Welt before crossing the street by overhead walkway to the main werks. Inside, you'll see new 3 Series sedans and wagons being assembled, including body assembly, painting and the marriage of drivetrains and bodies.

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The last encounter any true BMW enthusiast must have while in Munich is taking delivery of his or her new car from the Delivery Center, which is literally center stage at the BMW Welt facility. From just about anywhere in the Welt, visitors can view the Premiere Level, where up to thirty vehicles can be presented for delivery to new owners at one time. European citizens can take delivery of any new BMW vehicle at the Welt. Americans can also take possession of their new BMW in Munich through the European Delivery program, which is offered on all 1, 3, 5, 6, and 7 Series cars and X3 SAVs (X5, X6 and Z4 vehicles, which are built in Spartanburg, SC, are not part of the European Delivery program).

The European Delivery process starts at your local BMW store, where you'll order your car and select a delivery date. When the time arrives, you'll travel to Munich for delivery at BMW Welt. On your delivery date, you'll be greeted by a Customer Relations Manager, who will be your personal guide throughout the delivery process, introducing you to your new BMW.

You will check in about an hour and a half before your actual delivery time. Once checked in, you are free to tour the Welt or simply enjoy the luxurious accommodations of the Premium Lounge on the third level overlooking the Premiere Level. Unlike other areas of BMW Welt, the Premium Lounge is restricted only to those customers taking delivery of their new BMWs. Owners in waiting can enjoy complementary refreshments, browse the internet or kick back on a couch and enjoy a magazine until their allotted delivery time arrives.

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The actual delivery starts with an individualized briefing, where your guide will introduce you to many of the car's functions using interactive displays at the Product Info Center. This initial briefing lasts about 45 minutes, after which you will finally "meet" your new BMW on the Premiere Level. For the next half hour or so, your guide will complete the deliver process, going over every last detail before your departure. The final touch is having your photograph with your new BMW before driving down the ramp and exiting the Welt.

You can travel throughout Europe in your new BMW for up to six months on the temporary registration issued at delivery. When your travels are done, simply drop the car off at BMW Welt or any one of several drop-off locations throughout Europe. Your new BMW, having been properly broken in on some of Europe's best roads, will be shipped directly to your local BMW store, where you'll take Stateside delivery several weeks later.

With the amazing BMW Welt complex in Munich, BMW has not only created a unique destination for casual observers of the brand, but also a Mecca for those owners and enthusiasts who worship the roundel. If only once in your lifetime, you must experience everything BMW Welt has to offer.

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