This last December, we planned a trip to Hamburg to visit with family and to see the Automuseum PROTOTYP. This time, though, I wanted to travel via a different route, not the normal Dover-Calais channel crossing. Stena Line offer the Harwich to Hook-of-Holland crossing, which cuts out a lot of motorway driving through France and Belgium. We were late in booking and so could only get a daytime crossing, but for a small additional fee, we were able to access the Stena Plus feature which gets you into a private lounge. We took this option as it allowed us some quiet and the opportunity to plug in a laptop and to work, plus you get free teas and coffee throughout the crossing.
Taking this route to Hook-of-Holland, our journey by car to Hamburg was reduced to only five and a quarter hours instead of the seven and a half hours (it’s always longer than that) driving from Calais to Hamburg. It also means that by disembarking in Hook-of-Holland, you hit the German autobahns sooner, where you can make up extra time on your journey.
There is a lot to see in Hamburg, it really is a notable cultural centre in northern Germany. If you make your way down to Hamburg’s old harbour district, you will find that it has been transformed into a modern, hip area where many large corporations have established their headquarters. Many of the large and spacious buildings, once neglected and bland-looking, have been given a complete and sophisticated make-over, bringing them into the 21st century. One such building, which neighbours onto the Speicherstadt district (spice city), is today the home of the Automuseum PROTOTYP in Hamburg – and no, the ‘e’ is not missing, it’s the German spelling of prototype.
Convenient parking around the back of the building ensures that you don’t have to drive around endlessly looking for a parking before you can visit this fine establishment. As the name implies, the Automuseum PROTOTYP specialises in prototype models of both production and racing cars. By definition, the prototypes date from ca. 1930s forward, with the majority of vehicles on display originating from some of the bigger German manufacturers. While many of the display vehicles have German origins, there are some really special models produced by smaller companies that you may not have heard of before.
The reception is on the first floor, and so the atrium and stairway walls are richly adorned with period imagery, just to get you into the mood. Enthusiastic visitors can also explore the well-stocked shop at the reception, where you can choose from authentic scale models, books, marque-specific apparel and much more. Also in this area is a comfortable café area where you can rest your legs and enjoy a refreshment after wandering around the exhibits.
Visitors should remember that the German automotive industry was devastated as a result of the two World Wars, but despite this, there is still an interesting and wide representation of early models. One of the amazing realities is how innovative the German automotive manufacturers were before and after World War II, as evidenced by the prototypes on display.
The Automuseum PROTOTYP celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2018, and I am privileged to be able to say that I have visited this institution three times now, my first such visit being back in 2009, just a year after it opened. The exhibition hall is not huge by comparison with other museums, but what they may lack in the quantity of vehicles on display, they certainly make up for in quality! In this feature are a number of photos of cars that form part of the museum’s permanent or specialist displays.
Selected museum exhibits
In 1952, the Austrian mechanical engineer Otto Mathé built the Fetzenflieger using parts of the early Volkswagen Type 60 K 10 Berlin-Rom-Wagen racer and Porsche. The chassis and body are handmade. Body parts like the wings can be attached so that the Fetzenflieger can be used as a formula race car as well as a sports car. The shifter is installed on the left side because Mathé couldn’t use his right arm. To steer and to shift at the same time he leaned forward and pressed his chest on the steering wheel. The first engine – a 1500 cc pushrod Porsche racing engine and transmission were installed in front of the rear axle. In 1955, Mathé changed the engine and installed a 550 Spyder engine. He also improved the car by using rims and brakes from the 550 Spyder. The name Fetzenflieger is just a nickname because the engine was partly covered with linen fabric where a backfire could ignite the fabric causing the rear of the car to appear to be on fire. The Fetzenflieger was the most successful Austrian race car in the 1950s.