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More than 300 miles lie behind us when we park in Brera, an elegant part of the inner city of Milan. Three hundred miles, Affalterbach to Italy — that sounds like a good point to give ourselves our first really good stretch once we step out of the car. But after the ride in the Mercedes-AMG S 63 4MATIC+, it’s still a shame that we have to leave the car, even after five hours. In front of the Santa Maria della Grazie church masses of tourists are being shepherded. They are waiting to behold Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”. Strict rules are in effect so that they don’t step on each other’s feet and don’t damage the already battered mural. Tickets must be purchased in advance, and the maximum sojourn in front of the image is 15 minutes. The painting, like its creator, is a pop star: world-famous, dazzling and yet unfathomable. Only a few minutes’ drive away, on a small side street near the Church of San Marco, there is another work of Leonardo’s that is as significant as “The Last Supper”. The inconspicuous San Marco Lock is the only Da Vinci construction that has survived to the present day — and is an insider’s tip all the same: a row of townhouses, a small playground, a desiccated canal, no sound of traffic. Zero tourists, zero commemorative plaques. Only a couple is sitting on a bench and drinking beer in the evening sun. Did they come here because of the historical monument? “No, for the peace and quiet,” the young man replies and turns back to his girlfriend. In the canal you can see the remains of the lock. Two gates stand on a brick foundation; the wooden doors are open. In 1447, the higher alpine canal was to be connected with the waterways of the city, and the lock was meant to compensate for the height difference. Da Vinci broke with tradition and built two gates for opening and closing into the lock instead of the usual guillotine-like trap, which allowed for greater control in raising and lowering the boats. The San Marco Lock was a revolution in the art of engineering — just like the “Mona Lisa” and “The Last Supper” were for painting. But while the beauty of his painting has soaked up 500 years of fame almost all for itself, Da Vinci’s engineering work has often faded into obscurity. “Leonardo was a rebel,” the American historian George Sarton writes about the Renaissance scientist. “He was anxious to obtain not money or power, or comfort, but beauty and truth.” He wanted to understand nature, and water became his métier. Da Vinci’s obsession was already evident in his first drawing, in which he sketched a landscape depicting the course of the Arno in brown ink. He thus invented the genre of landscape painting in passing. Later he developed canals, drainage and irrigation systems for the Duke of Milan, for whose wife he designed a magnificent bathroom as if he were a kind of upscale plumber. Leonardo, who never enjoyed the luxury of higher education, knew 67 words alone for the different movements of the water. “Water,” wrote Da Vinci in his notebooks, “is the driving force of all life.” This motif can be found even in the “Mona Lisa,” writes the art historian and Da Vinci expert Martin Kemp, who draws a parallel between the pregnant Lisa Gherardini and Mother Earth: While a new creation matures in the womb of the pregnant woman, water is shaping the landscape in the background. As our journey continues toward Florence, the question inevitably arises about what Da Vinci would have thought of our world today and of a luxury performance sedan like the Mercedes-AMG S 63 4MATIC+. After all, he made numerous drawings and models of exceptional machines that were designed to ease people’s burdens. Why shouldn’t a man be able to fly like a bird, swim like a fish? Da Vinci wanted to create machines that freed people from their limitations. In return, the soul of man should meld with the abilities of technology — a bold thought that becomes reality in the Mercedes-AMG S 63 4MATIC+. Because with all its assistance systems, it is always the driver who remains in control of the sedan and not the other way round. And so we glide through the charmingly undulating Tuscan landscape and sink into the beauty of its nature. No wonder Da Vinci regarded engineering craftsmanship and art as inseparable — the extreme luxury in the interior of the Mercedes-AMG S 63 4MATIC+ would seem to be the essence of this thought. Our journey leads us through Groppello D’Adda, a tranquil community of 3,000 inhabitants in Lombardy. The former bishop’s see of Carlo Borromeo peacefully slumbers toward decay as the current inhabitants of the village hasten to their morning obligations. In the center, next to a stone bridge over the narrow Adda River, we find another testament to Leonardo da Vinci was already world famous as a painter and inventor during his lifetime. But while his art still shines, Leonardo’s extraordinary lifelong achievement as an engineer threatens to fall into oblivion. On the search for clues in Italy. 148


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