Virtue by design

Okapi-rightDuring our trip to Germany this summer we made a point of visiting BMW Welt, the famous automaker's headquarters in Munich. We were glad we did.

Part showroom, part museum and part happening, the facility is well worth a visit whether you are interested in cars or not. BMW is in business to sell cars -- and expensive cars, at that -- but their approach to business is somewhat different from what we normally see in North America. "Lifestyle" advertising and sales are the norm here, too, but the German approach (we saw something similar at VW's Autostadt in Wolfsburg) seems to combine a commitment to quality in design and manufacturing with a genuine commitment to the customer.

Prospective buyers are invited to take their time viewing sightlines, opening doors, feeling surfaces and manipulating controls -- you can even sign a vehicle out for an hour or two if you like.

And there's no need to hurry: you can spend the day learning about cars of the past and new technologies, let your children take part in interesting activities or be driven around the facility in a tiny BMW two-seater from the '50s, and stop for lunch in one of three restaurants.

You'll need to stand back, though, while a rider on an off-road motorcycle does stunts up and down the stairs and across the display floor. If you're fortunate enough to be picking up a new car, you'll get the full VIP-treatment in a special hand-over area. (The image at right is a picture of one of the pieces of art one the walls of a lounge area used for receptions and available to visitors who want to rest for a while in one of many very comfortable chairs.)

All in all, not a bad way to spend a few hours, whether you leave with a new car or not.

What's most striking, though, is the concern for quality design and workmanship throughout. Not everyone can afford to buy a BMW, but all of us can appreciate the evident concern to produce goods and spaces that are well-designed, well-made and welcoming. Taste and style can come and go, disposable cash can expand and contract, but doing the best we can with the work of our minds and hands is always within reach of any us. My eye might have been caught by a dark grey Series 3, but BMW Welt captured my thoughts with the virtue of excellence.