MUNICH — Yuppie is a foreign word to Richard Gerstner.
But Gerstner, spokesman and museum director for Bayerische Motoren Werke, is well acquainted with the product that has become the symbol for America's hard-working, hard-spending young professionals on wheels.
The BMW museum is a slick and thoroughly entertaining shrine to the firm that in 70 years has gone from making aircraft engines to producing the favorite car of the upwardly mobile on the other side of the Atlantic.
Driving along Petuelring, you can't miss it. It's the big silver building that looks rather like a bowl plucked unfinished off a potter's wheel, next to the quadricylindrical office high-rise with the familiar round emblem at the top.
And if you're approaching from the air, the Beemer museum is even easier to spot: The blue-and-white logo covers the roof of the squat building beside the sprawling auto factory.
On the Inside
The striking exterior is just the beginning. Inside, a visitor can check out headphones at the reception desk (where one also can have a cup of coffee or buy selected bits of the BMW mystique), then wander up the spiraling walkway designed by architect Karl Schwanzer through a color-coded exhibit called Time Motion (a translation of Zeitmotor ).
The sweeping ramp, dapper Gerstner explains, is meant to suggest a road continuing through the building.
Ambitious in theme as well as design, Time Motion attempts to put BMW, auto makers and industry in general into a social and historic context. No kidding.
The point, Gerstner continues in halting but careful English, is this: Industry leaves a distinct mark on society, as society in turn influences industry.
BMW began manufacturing aircraft engines in 1916; in 1923, motorcycles were added to its line, followed in 1928 by cars. During World War II the plant was converted into an arms factory, and at the end of the war it lay in a heap of rubble.
New Life in 1961
For 15 years BMW struggled to survive and rebuild, finding new life when it resumed production of compact, sporty touring cars in 1961. Today the firm produces 450,000 cars and 30,000 motorcycles a year, nearly two-thirds of which are exported.
The BMW Museum was built in 1971-73 when the Olympic Village across the street was constructed.
Time Motion, which opened in 1984 as the museum's second grand-concept exhibition, was conceived as a vision of industrial, technical and social history that looks at the future as it was predicted in the past and as it is seen in the present.
The focus of it all is the people behind the industry.
Videos and slide shows are narrated in your choice of language (German, French, English or Spanish). At each stop you plug in the headphones and learn about motor sports, organized labor, the tension between man and machine, conditions in the workplace, women in industry, social institutions and so on.
Especially fascinating are the videos examining visions of the future from science-fiction literature and movies. With excerpts from such films as "1984," "The Time Machine," "2001, A Space Odyssey" and "Alien," they show imagined tomorrows of doom, horror, conformity, enlightenment and comfort.
Five platforms of various colors divide the exhibition. On the blue floor is an overview of BMW products; the violet section features the early cars; modern BMW autos are on the green level; the red area shows the use of computers in production, and at the top is the white futuristic platform.
Then, just when you've taken in all the information you can and your back is starting to ache, you reach the BMW cinema with its wide screen and Dolby sound.
Now's your chance to relax and enjoy BMW's film-gift to its visitors, a fast-moving visual journey through some of the world's fine scenery (with an occasional glimpse of business and industry).
The remarkable cinema, reminiscent of Disneyland's "American Journeys," reflects the concept that we must respect and preserve nature's environment, even as industry forges ahead.
Eclipsing others of its genre, the BMW museum has become the most popular industrial museum in Germany and the third most popular museum in Munich (after the Deutsches Museum and the Neue Pinakothek).
About 350,000 people visit the well-paced exhibit each year; in summer, 80% of them are American. Tours of the factory next door are also available, with reservations required for groups. (For groups of more than five, write to BMW AG, Postfach 40 02 40, AK 221, 8000 Munich 40, West Germany.)
The BMW Museum is open every day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; admission is DM4.50 (about $1.80).
And if you still haven't had enough, trot up Petuelring about 100 yards to the company store, where you can pick up child seats, ski suits, jackets, mugs, ties, jewelry, steering wheels, sweaters and more.
The clothing, of course, carries BMW's own designer label.