01/2015, Impression of the Mercedes G500 in Detroit 20 Photos Zoom

Travelling through Detroit in the Mercedes G500: Crass, ramshackle huts and cool botch shops

Allegedly, things are on an uphill course in Detroit, the Berlin phenomenon is on the rampage there, based primarily of the settlement of self-titled hipsters in dilapidated buildings. Really?auto motor and sportsets off in search of traces – for safety purposes, in the Mercedes G-model

"All the magic happened right here in this place!“ If you indulge in time spent with Sheena, the equally committed and captivating manager of the Motown Museum, for a little too long, it would seem that people are still dancing in the streets in Detroit everywhere you look. But it would be a rubbish museum, if it did not manage to preserve the spirit of what were in this case genuinely 'good old days'.

From factory worker to record producer

Visitors to the cool building on West Grand boulevard first learn from Sheena that they are not permitted to take photographs here, and secondly how the simple factory worker Bary Gordy became the operator of the on-and-off largest record producing company in the world. And that the label had been open 24 hours a day, to avoid missing a single flash of inspiration on the part of its artists – Stevie Wonder, Jackson Five, Temptations, Aretha Franklin and many more. Definitely in the past.

As well as the fact that no more beauty will be emanating from Detroit, at least not in the foreseeable future and in spite of all of the recovery theories that have emerged in recent years. Detroit still tops the crime statistics in the USA by some margin, even though the number of individual offences are on the decline. The population has dwindled since the 1950s, falling by more than half to the current figure of around 700,000, with no sign of a change in the trend. So where are the rumours of the alleged upswing coming from? Well it does exist, it just flourishes in secret. Similarly to in Berlin after the fall of the wall, old buildings and low rent are attracting those wishing to fulfil the dream of running their own companies. This is how hip stores such as Willys (fashion), Detroit Run (running) or galleries such as the Cass Café and the Library Street Collective started. Many observers considered the opening of a Wholefood branch alone to be a clear sign of a turnaround, as the organic supermarket chain offers its products at comparatively high prices. Who forms the customer base? It is recruited primarily from members of the middle and higher management of Ford and GM and their relatives.

Detroit, from fine accessories to ramshackle huts

However, the city is still characterised by ramshackle huts, at least as soon as you leave the downtown area where the Renaissance Center, Cobo Hall and hotels such as the Crowne Plaza and Westin Book Cadillac maintain the appearance of a functioning metropolis. The situation quickly takes a sinister turn, with the crumbling Park Hotel just the first of many. Nevertheless: on Woodward Avenue competing diggers rummage around, tearing up the old, pothole-filled street. It is high time - and there's still a lot of work to be done. Numerous shops are empty, leaving room for entrepreneurial spirit. Why not? EOne company is managing to throw off the image of the local insider's tip – Shinola. Using manual methods, the company's 300 or so employees manufacture bicycles, watches and leather accessories. The label charges a high price for this hand craftsmanship, with watches from around 500 Dollars, bikes from 2,000 Dollars upwards, with comparatively simple technology and materials. The company, founded by Steve Bock, appeals to the patriotism of the Detroit natives - as an ex-manager at Fossil Bock knows how to make money for these types of goods. Even those who don't warm to any of the products should plan a visit to the store on Canfield Street – it is worth it for the great cappuccinos alone.

Just a few steps away, the city is falling into greater disrepair, rotting from within. Around 84,000 buildings are abandoned, dilapidated or simply rubble - generally a combination of all three. Shocking: 100,000 apartments and homes lack a proper supply of drinking water. Less shocking, but not in keeping with an upturn: 40,000 households have no internet connection. In particular, it is the crude mixture of blitzed ruins directly alongside occupied buildings is rather unsettling. Some huts look as though their remains will collapse in on themselves simply on account of the 5.5-litre engine of the G-model starting up in front of them.

The Mercedes G-model celebrates success in the USA

In contrast to Detroit, during a career spanning more than 35 years, the G has repeatedly got back up again, or put better: it has never been brought to its knees by any of the new emissions and crash standards. And since the angular off-roader was launched on the US market in 2001, it has given new impetus to the segment. As an aside: more than half of the current annual production of around 17,000 units are the even more expensive AMG versions with V8 and V12 biturbo drive systems. In the G500, on the other hand, the good old naturally aspirated engine is at work, sounding very American with a warm roar, and the shockingly large potholes seems to have little effect on the massive chassis of the large box.

In any case, there is a thick cover of snow in the side streets covered by a layer of ice, broken up by steam emanating from the sewerage system, only slightly relieving the morbid atmosphere. Only the cold and clear Winter air, gleaming in the sunshine, allays the fear of turning into a side street rather than back on the main street.

A symbol of the downturn: the Packard plant

And at some point the old Packard plant appears above the steep front panel, completely in tatters and overrun, by no means an industrial memorial like the old mines in the Ruhr Valley. There is an old boat hull just lying around, collapsed walls, rubbish. The odd piece of cool graffiti allows the building to maintain a small amount of dignity. Until 1956 the vehicle manufacturer's high-end models – even including those with twelve-cylinder engines – were produced here, however, at that point not many of the once 36,000-worker strong workforce still remained. Packard built around 31,000 vehicles in 1954 – but the break-even point was 80,000 units. A private initiative is now seeking to prevent the 27-hectare area being returned to what it once was: a cow's pasture. However, there is nothing to show for any such endeavours.

And so, the Mercedes G rumbles on towards the city centre, and the sun bathes the Detroit skyline in pleasant light. Perhaps Detroit is like the Vienna of the 70s or even the Berlin of the 90s. An underestimated large city with a great deal of tradition, housed in rotting building and in the living ideas of the inhabitants, which occasionally breaks fresh ground. However, the much discussed upturn appears to be an overestimation. In any case, in the Motown Museum no-one believes that the good old days of black music are returning to Detroit. Therefore, Sheena invites all visitors to join in singing the Temptations' classic hit "My Girl" at the end of the tour. "Right here in the legendary Studio A where all the magic happened“. She signals the beat.

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Date

21 April 2015
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