Tucked away in a fabulous old Berlin tram depot is an even more fabulous collection of classic cars. For aficionados, it's a dream come true, and for the layman, it provides an enticing taste of life in the fast lane.
Meilenwerk is a classic car paradise
From the outside, the building gives little clue as to the treasures within, but to step over the threshold is to enter an Aladdin's cave of dazzling body work, worn leather and vintage elegance. It's like a classic car theme park where grown men get to drop down a gear and succumb to their inner boy without running the risk of ridicule. That said, it's more than just a paradise for the impassioned.
'Meilenwerk', as the project is called, is a "forum for driving in style". In essence it is 16,000 square meters of floor space dedicated to old timers and all that goes with them. The concept is novel, unique in fact, so when Martin Halder, Managing Director of Halder Consulting and his wife Nicola Halder-Haß came up with the idea, they were pretty sure they'd hit on something.
"We came from a real estate background and recognizing the limited potential in that area, we decided to look at what the market really needs. Germans love cars, they love classic cars," Nicola Halder-Haß told DW-WORLD. What she and her husband have created is a cross between a museum and an umbrella for companies which service vintage car owners.
There are plenty of opportunities to buy at Meilenwerk
One side of the sprawling arena is given over to sales offices where rows of glistening motors are on display for collectors or curious visitors to inspect at their leisure. With no sign of pushy sales staff, the atmosphere is incredibly relaxed. But that was part of the plan from the beginning. "Those who rent commercial space from us spend a lot of time here. So it's important that the atmosphere is comfortable for them, that they are among people on the same wave-length," Halder said.
Best laid plans
Such attention to detail has landed Halder an economic coup. Interest was enormous from the beginning, and all the commercial units, which house mechanical workshops, bookshops, electricians, insurers, leather specialists, racing supplies dealers and restaurants are long since booked out. In fact, Meilenwerk was in the enviable position of being been able to choose which companies could trade under its roof. "The organizations here are all independent companies, and what was very important to us that they almost all come from Berlin or Brandenburg," Halder-Haß said.
While the companies based in Meilenwerk might be more or less of local breeding, the 400,000 visitors which flooded through the doors of the old tram depot last year, come from much further afield. "We don't have much to do with Berlin, which is not to say that there aren't a lot of rich people in the city. There are a lot of collectors, but people don't just come from Berlin, or even Germany, they come from all over Europe and all over the world." Karl-Helmut Larkamp, a rare car dealer based at Meilenwerk told DW-WORLD.
Glass boxes serve as showcases for private collectors
Some of those who come, do so to visit their own classic babies. Cutting right though the center of the historic brick building are 88 glass boxes, which are rented out to classic car owners at the respectable fee of €120 ($145). It's an unusual concept, but with a waiting list of more than 150 cars, an absolute winner. Halder-Haß believes that people like to have their cars on show, and lists the practical benefits, such ideal climatic conditions, maintenance opportunities, valet services and 24-hour security.
With a twinkle in her eye, Halder-Haß expounds on the further benefits for men with a penchant for style on wheels. "They might think to themselves 'oh how I miss my old timer, I'd like to get a model for my desk', and they can do that because the model shop is right here. Of course there's also a photographer, so they can have their picture taken with their car," she said.
Economic success story
Meilenwerk has become a popular events location
Although they did their homework with incredibly scrutiny, the Meilenwerk brainchildren had to take a €10 million risk to get the project up and running. Now after one year of trading Halder is planning some far-flung expansion. "We're talking about launching sites in Munich, Hamburg, the Ruhr Valley, Vienna and Zürich, and are quite well advanced with the plans for Hamburg and the Ruhr Valley. We have to get it just right, and there are an incredible number of factors to be taken into consideration," Halder said.
He's not kidding. Besides all the shops, restaurants, clubs and garages which sit in harmony under one roof, Meilenwerk has become an important events venue. On 200 days of the year, it serves as a glistening backdrop for medical congresses, award ceremonies, television broadcasts, private parties, dinners, fashion shows and gourmet markets. And with 15 million vintage car enthusiasts in Germany, their success looks set to keep roaring.