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Every year, more than 800,000 people from all around the world visit the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart. This regularly means special encounters for us as employees. I will never forget the visit of Kari and Henrita Ruokonen, who arrived from Helsinki in March 2019 with a red Mercedes-Benz 190 SL in their luggage.
It began with a letter
At the start of the visit of Kari and his wife Henrita, there is a letter to the “PR Department of Daimler AG”. With a few detours, it ends up at the Mercedes-Benz Museum and ultimately with me.
I read Kari’s story. The story of a man, now 76 years old, who in 1958, at the age of 15, created a “cardboard car factory” together with his older brother.
For the want of toys, the two boys had used cardboard, wood and various scrap materials to build model cars, which they transformed into little pieces of art with glue and paint. Their aspiration was that the models should match the originals right down to the smallest detail. In order to be able to build the vehicles so precisely and, above all, so true to scale, Kari’s brother got the corresponding brochures from Veho, the Finnish general importer for Mercedes-Benz. Kari writes: “My brother was the boss and I built the models.” So after ten months of intensive work, a little red Mercedes-Benz 190 SL was created.
The invitation to Stuttgart
The brother showed the result to a Veho salesman, who was so inspired by the red speedster that he kept the model for two weeks, took photos and sent them to Stuttgart. When the two came to pick up their 190 SL, they were told they had been invited to the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart. An invitation that they could not act on at the time: “I was 15 years old and I had no opportunity to make that, even if that would have been the best thing in my life to travel there.”
Still valid 61 years later
The enclosed photo of the red Mercedes-Benz 190 SL inspires me, and after Kari’s letter and his question as to whether the invitation to the Mercedes-Benz Museum is still valid today, I know that it is my job to find an editor to tell this fascinating story. Public relations for the museum is my job – Kari’s letter came to just the right person.
After an initial enquiry, Kari writes that the model of the 190 SL is still in very good condition and can be easily transported. And he sends further pictures of a sports car and a truck. Great!
On 7 March the day has come: an editor and a photographer of Classic magazine, a museum guide and I greet Kari and his wife Henrita at Stuttgart Airport. The chemistry is immediate – the two guests from Finland look excited and full of anticipation.
On the drive to the museum, Henrita reveals to me that this invitation is a big deal to her husband. It was not him, however, but her who wrote the letter. Firstly, because her husband’s command of English isn’t that good and secondly, because he is far too modest, and thirdly, because he never expected to receive an answer in any case. I like the idea that his wife arranged the invitation.
A journey to childhood
The day flies by. Our tour through the museum is a journey to his own childhood for Kari – awakened by the encounter with two original Mercedes-Benz 190 SLs, in some ways the big brother of his model: in the “Gallery of Celebrities”, Kari gets into a grey 190 SL from 1959 as a co-driver – his model takes pride of place on the driver’s seat.
After the visit to the museum followed the surprise: another silver Mercedes-Benz 190 SL on the hill of the museum – time to get in, give it a good inspection and compare the model to the original.
In the afternoon, Gerhard Heidbrink presents some very special treasures in the archives of Mercedes-Benz Classic: the archive bundle with the patent document of Carl Benz from 1886, which was admitted into the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme in 2011, plus a further bundle with the passport and birth certificate of Mercédès Jellinek, original design drawings of the Mercedes-Benz 190 SL and much more.
Thank you for making a little boy’s dream come true
These were the words of farewell which Kari and his wife wrote in the Mercedes-Benz Museum guest book the next day after another extensive museum visit. Bye-bye, Kari and Henrita!
Addendum: Two days later, we receive a long thank-you note by email. Kari writes that as a boy, he could never have dreamed that one day he would really be sitting behind the steering wheel of an actual 190 SL. Our invitation to the museum was the most beautiful evidence that you should always believe in your dreams.
I think Henrita also drafted this letter in order to properly convey her husband’s feelings, which have more than made up for what he lacked in words.