Friday, June 22, 2012

A marriage every 2 minutes at the Audi factory in Germany

Good afternoon from a simple but very beautiful place in the heart of manufacturing Germany. We've just returned from a fairly busy day looking at cars and outlet malls, and now I'm at my hotel. It's close to 9 PM but it's still just before sunset and the big game between Germany and Greece that perhaps 95% of Germans will be watching is on tonight.

Everyone here in Germany is getting ready to watch the big game very soon. There's a big screen set up in my hotel, and we were told that we needed to wear black, red and yellow -- the colors of Germany -- in case we wanted to join in the fun tonight. Fortunately I'm already wearing a black shirt and a red and yellow Hermes scarf, so I'm all set for the game in a while.

My room has a terrace and a garden, so first I decided to bring my Mac, my iPod and my Blackberry outside so that I could work amidst nature and amidst such perfect weather. Just being outside and seeing the greenery and the birds has really made me very happy to be here in Europe with my friends and, actually, happy just to be alive and living a Travelife.

This is one of the cars we went to see this morning
in Ingolstadt, Germany

What's still on my iPod right now

Mike and The Mechanics
I really like this song...

Shawn Mullins
I don't like the whole song but
I heard the refrain of this song in a store in Salzburg
and it made me teary-eyed. 
I downloaded it as soon as I got to my hotel.

Hate that I love you

Keep this Love Alive
Tom Scott
This song makes me sentimental...

Missed Opportunity
Hall & Oates


My terrace was perfect for working...
Then my Blackberry pings and it's my friend J again, asking me about something he already knows the answer to anyway. He seemed very pleased with himself about it. And when he found out I was BBM-ing him back from my the terrace, and that I was on my Mac, he immediately messaged back: "That means you're blogging...and it's about me again."

There was a smiley face at the end of his message as usual, so I'm guessing he's not too distressed about the idea. And actually, this blog was going to be about the Audi factory I just visited this morning -- but it may as well also be about a little bit about him since he mentioned it.

We'd been comparing notes (or more like competing) this morning, you see, on who was in a better place in the world at that very moment -- whether it was me in the Audi factory in Germany or him, somewhere pretty exotic and not too far from me actually. This was just before I'd reluctantly gone on the Audi tour, so I'd let him win this morning. I'd been to where he was a couple of years ago, and it's still one of my favorite hard-to-get-to places. So I said to him: "For once, I actually want to be where you are."


The entrance to the Audi Museum
But that was before I actually began the Audi tour and found out what a fascinating place it is, even for a non-car person like myself. After the Audi tour, I realized I was everywhere I wanted to be after all.

The visit to the Audi factory is the reason we're even in this part of Europe at all. My two friends and I are going to be driving back to Prague tomorrow and then we'll be traveling through some of the most beautiful parts of the Czech Republic for a few days. To make the most of a long plane ride to Europe, though, we decided to arrive a couple of days earlier so that we could visit some other places as well.

This is another of the cars we went all the way to see in Germany. 
My heart was set on Poland or Bulgaria, actually, but A really wanted to see the Audi factory in Germany, in a fairly nondescript town called Ingolstadt, which is about an hour's drive from Munich, and so this is how we ended up in this part of Europe for a few days.

Buyers who order custom-made Audis
get to drive their cars directly out of this showroom.

The engine of a vintage Audi car


I'm not a car person but I went along with the idea because it was just nice to spend more time with my friends. I also thought we could combine our trip to the Audi factory with a visit to Munich -- so everything worked out very nicely.

However, I have to admit that, from the outset, a visit to the Audi factory was not very big on my list of things to do. Personally, I would have rated it at about the same level as a visit to an oxcart making factory in Costa Rica or a silk weaving factory in Hangzhou, in terms of attractiveness -- meaning attractive to some people, but fairly uninteresting to others.

Part of the Audi HQ lobby has a coffee shop for employees 


What a surprise it was then to me to have had such an enjoyable visit to this car factory.

First, the entire plant is clean and beautiful. The corporate offices are uber-cool in design while the factory is so clean that someone could probably roll around its floor with no qualms. No kidding. Not a speck of dust, no sign of oil, no mess anywhere.

It was clean and quiet, and everyone wore clothes without zippers or buttons so as not to scratch the cars, and used bicycles to get around. There were even paintings and art on the walls of this mammoth assembly line floor. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to bring in our phones or cameras so I'm only posting photos of the cars.

The lobby of Audi's corporate headquarters in Ingolstadt, Germany

But we did the two-hour Audi factory tour. I was practically dragged kicking and screaming to this, but by the middle part I was just as fascinated as the others. Audi rolls out 2700 cars out of this plant everyday -- that's a lot of work -- and this kind of volume really requires clockwork efficiency.

They operate three shifts round-the-clock except on Sundays: 6 AM to 230 PM, 230 PM to 10 PM and then 10 PM to 6 AM. The evening shift is the most difficult, of course, but it also pays better. Our guide said: "So young couples who have just bought or built a house usually like to take this shift."

Reception for all guests to the Audi factory


Over 95% of the manufacturing process is done by robots. And seeing a whole floor of robots at work was really fascinating. There were no humans anywhere -- just robots and car parts or parts of cars being rolled to them via conveyor belts. It was all very sci-fi in feel.

The end process, however, is done by real people -- and that, too, was a big eye-opener. There was no noise, no stray actions, no things out of place. Just people smiling but working seriously on car after car after car. Scroll down to read more about the pretty amazing Audi factory...

A vintage Audi bike on display

One of the two restaurants for Audi visitors.
Pretty good, casual food.

A legendary Audi race car


The last part of the process is the highlight of the factory visit. This is when the body of the car and the chassis are put together to actually make a proper car. Until then, it's just parts being welded, cleaned, painted or screwed on. In Audi speak, this moment is a "marriage," and a marriage takes place every two minutes here at the Audi factory in Ingolstadt.

The famous Audi race car used at Le Mans
The other interesting detail is how personalized some Audi fans want their cars. Our guide told us about a lady who sent in her favorite lipstick so that the designers at Audi could make up a color for her car that exactly matched this shade. Then there was the man who sent in his necktie -- yes, he wanted some color on his necktie for his car.

The entire process made me much more appreciative of cars. I really think of them just as something I ride in; but today, I saw them for the first time as works of art. Not the one-in-a-million kind perhaps, as those are rare, complicated, and difficult; but certainly the one in 2700 a day type.

Just another day in a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife. Good night from Germany.

We were thinking of trading in our rental car for this...

There's fresh pasta made on the spot
at one of the two restaurants on the premises.


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