The first long-distance journey, undertaken in the Benz patent motor car, lead from Mannheim to Pforzheim
New sculpture to be unveiled in the historic heart of Pforzheim on May 3, 2008
Artist René Dantes created a sculpture inspired by the vehicle and its famous female driver
The now famous long-distance journey of Bertha Benz 120 years ago helped the automobile achieve the breakthrough it was looking for. In August 1888, she and her two sons set off in the patent motor car designed by her husband, Carl Benz, and drove the 106 kilometers from Mannheim to the town of her birth, Pforzheim, returning to Mannheim a few days later. With the exception of one or two minor incidents, the patent motor car functioned perfectly.
To mark the 120th anniversary of this pioneering achievement, the town of Pforzheim will unveil a monument in honor of Bertha Benz and the first long-distance trip in automotive history at 4 p.m. on May 3, 2008. Bertha Benz was born on May 3, 1849. The celebrations are to be attended by her great-granddaughter Jutta Benz.
“Bertha Benz’s long-distance journey was the start of a triumphant march which the automobile has continued to make around the world ever since,” said Dr. Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler AG. “Today it is represented in infinite variations on every continent, creating individual mobility and supplying all our daily needs.”
The sculpture, created by the Pforzheim artist René Dantes, is a representation of movement, since, as Dantes put it, “this historic journey of 1888 was a moving experience in every sense of the word.” At the same time, Dantes’ stylized figure of Bertha Benz aboard the three-wheeled patent motor car looks straight ahead, symbolizing the tremendous impact the world’s first automobile had on the future mobility of mankind.
The sculpture occupies a conspicuous position at Waisenhausplatz in Pforzheim’s historic center, positioned between the CCP Congress Center and the municipal theater. The site is bordered on one side by Zerrennerstraße, one of the town’s main thoroughfares. In addition, the work of art also stands close to the historic route taken by Bertha Benz through Pforzheim, for it was here in the town center that she demonstrated the reliability of the great invention on several occasions.
On the day of the unveiling ceremony, Waisenhausplatz is to play host to a whole program of activities for children and adults. One of the main attractions will be a parade of classic cars featuring approximately 15 vehicles from different eras, including several from Mercedes-Benz. One after the other, these cars will document a journey back through time, covering 120 years of automotive history and ending when the last vehicle in the parade enters the square – a patent motor car.
A sculpture that uses a distinctive and dynamic formal vocabulary
In Dante’s distinctive formal vocabulary, the sculpture depicts a stylized representation of a Benz patent motor car and seated female figure. These two elements fuse to form a single entity since, as Dantes explains, “the pioneering achievement inextricably links Bertha Benz to the automobile.” But the work is also an expression of dynamic movement: the vehicle’s flowing lines become wheels, spiral forms that appear to be in motion. Given its position next to the road, the sculpture enters into a dialogue with the passing traffic, thus also becoming part of modern life. René Dantes has portrayed the abstract representation of the female figure seated on the vehicle with a marked strength of character. “Bertha Benz was a courageous woman,” he says, “her achievement came as a result of her strength and courage.” Viewed as a whole, the piece is a powerful testament to the intensity with which the artist researched the life and work of Bertha Benz prior to creating his sculpture.
The artist and the project’s theme proved an ideal match: the human being is central to the creativity of the Pforzheim artist René Dantes. Rooted in the tradition of realism, his work focuses on the human body, using simple, abstract elements to create a highly expressive form that speaks in broad terms to the viewing public.
The sculpture is designed entirely from stainless steel. The upper part – the female figure – has a satin finish, whereas the lower part – the vehicle – has a dark brown patina that seemingly anchors the artwork in the past. It is mounted on a platform of real cobblestones that originate from the era of Bertha Benz. The sculpture is approximately 2.40 meters high and 3.40 meters long, or four meters including the plinth. This makes it slightly larger than the original Benz patent motor car, but it was deemed important for the work to “dominate the square and be easily noticeable, even at a distance,” explained Dantes. The artwork was funded by Verkehrsverein Pforzheim, with the assistance and support of many of the town’s inhabitants, public figures and sponsors.
The long-distance journey helps the automobile achieve its breakthrough
The now famous long-distance journey of Bertha Benz in August 1888 helped give the automobile the breakthrough it was looking for. Although the patent motor car – the great invention of her husband, Karl Benz – was already two years old, sales were sluggish. So in order to demonstrate the possibilities and reliability of this new mode of transportation, Bertha Benz and her two sons, Eugen and Richard, drove the 106 kilometers from Mannheim to the town of her birth, Pforzheim. Unbeknown to her husband, she set off early that morning, and on reaching Wiesloch the three adventurers stopped off at a chemist’s shop to fill up with “ligroin” – as gasoline was still known at the time. In Bruchsal the services of a blacksmith were required to repair the drive chain; in Bauschlott a shoe smith fitted new leather to the brake shoes – and an interim report was sent by telegram to Carl Benz. At regular intervals Bertha Benz also had to unblock the fuel line using a hat pin. And she sacrificed one of her stocking garters to insulate the ignition. But these were mere minor inconveniences – they arrived safe and sound in Pforzheim that evening without experiencing any major difficulties, and Carl Benz received a second telegram informing him of the success. Three days after this pioneering achievement, the three of them drove safely back to Mannheim.
This anniversary year has already seen one event in honor of the famous automotive pioneer. On April 2, 2008, a school in Wiesloch, not far from the town’s chemist’s shop, was renamed “Bertha Benz School”.