German museum built on a passion for cycling
Stars and Stripes
I love motorcycles — always have. Yet decades have passed since my fancy began and there still isn’t a motorcycle in my life.
That spark of enthusiasm for two-wheeled adventure returned after I spent a few hours walking through the Deutsches Zweirad- und NSU-Museum for bikes and motorcycles in Neckarsulm, Germany.
Bicycles, on the other hand, have been an active passion of mine, and on the ground floor of this 13th-century building are dozens of well-preserved examples of pedaling history. There’s an interesting exhibit that allows visitors to jump up on a vintage high-wheel cycle, which requires a special method of mounting. Just follow the instructions on the wall.
The museum is laid out in a five-floor, split-level walking tour, with exhibits reflecting motorcycle evolution. The oldest motorized vehicle is a wooden half-horse-power Daimler built in 1885. It’s an original example of the world’s first gas-powered motorcycle.
Going room to room unfolds a motorcycle chronology represented by 50 national and international bike manufacturers. The walking tour ends at the top floor with the racers, most of which are vintage. Rally, ice surface, motocross and drag bikes are all represented. The final room, with leather racing suits propped up in glass tubes like alien specimens, pays homage to Grand Prix racers.
Neckarsulm was most likely selected as the home of this museum because of its connection to NSU motorcycles. NSU, derived after the first few letters of the nearby Neckar and Sulm rivers, started as a knitting machine manufacturer in 1873 but switched to bicycles by 1892. In 1969, after more than 70 years of inventing, building and racing things that go, NSU was absorbed by Volkswagen and merged with what is now called Audi.
The catacomb-style basement is filled with cars, motorcycles and examples of technology as a sort of tribute to NSU Motor Works. It was NSU that created the Wankel rotary engine that never caught on in Europe but remains in use in the modern Mazda RX-8 sports cars. For budding engineers, there are engines you can crank and watch as the internals work in harmony.
All the exhibits in this museum are in German, but you’ll find it doesn’t really matter. The displays are well done and the variety is amazing.
After going through the museum, I want a motorcycle more than ever.
On the QT
From Mannheim, take Autobahn 6 toward Stuttgart, and get off at Exit 37, merging onto B27 and following signs for Neckarsulm. Go through three roundabouts into the center of town. The building is at Urbanstrasse 11, near the railroad tracks with black-and-white striped shutters. As a side note, there is a nice little park in the field next to the museum where children can play, when the weather cooperates.
Deutsches Zweirad- und NSU-Museum is open year round, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays.
Admission is 4.50 euros for adults and 2.50 euros for students; children younger than 6 are free. Parking is free throughout the town, if you use a parking disk.
There is a German restaurant just outside the entrance to the museum. There is also an outdoor food stand in the parking lot.
The museum Web site is www.zweirad-museum.de and the phone number is 07132-35271. There aren’t any English options on the Web site and only one of the two people I talked with at the counter spoke English.