Thursday, May 27, 2010



I had read on several occasions about taking a tour of either a Mercedes or BMW factory while in Germany. Months ago while checking out the possibility, I discovered a appointment was required for one of the limited spots available on an English speaking tour. So about 5 months ago I made an appointment for the tour of the BMW plant in Regensburg, Germany.

We arrived a the appointed hour and at the specified location and right on time we were met by Franz, our guide. There were only three other people on the tour with us, and after introductions we were given a short safety briefing and watched a short film on the history of the company.

I've been on the tour of the Ford truck factory in Detroit. This is nothing like the one there. Ford is so worried about liability, that you walk on catwalks above just one assembly line. At BMW, they give you safety glasses and you get right down on the assembly floor. I know it's a guy thing, but it's quite impressive. You are constantly dodging fork lifts, and automatically controlled vehicles shuttling parts. You see the giant presses, mostly operated by robots which stamp out the body parts. The metal comes into the factory in giant rolls and comes out of the presses as doors and fenders. You get showered by sparks as the robots weld the parts together. If a defect is noted in the body, a dent or bad weld, the vehicle is scrapped and steel is sent back to the foundry.

You get to see the vehicle being painted and then assembled, with the body and chassis coming together towards the end. We spent 2.5 hours walking 3.5 kilometers on the tour and I at least enjoyed it all. I would recommended this tour for all us guys. Now I want to buy a BMW. Anybody want to give me a loan?

After leaving Regensburg we drove on the autobahn (lookout for fast cars and stay in the right lane) to Mauthausen, Austria a small town near Linz. We found a B&B just outside of town for 36 euros, or cheapest room yet. Nice simple room on the ground floor (converted garage) with a big flat screen TV and satellite. Most of the all of the other guest were men who were in the area for work, so the TV schedule included lots of X-rated material. On the downside it also had CNN and BBC.

We spent the better part of a day at Mauthausen Concentration Camp, just outside of town. This started out as a German POW camp for Russian and Polish prisoners of war, but over time political prisoners, Jews and various others made up the camp population. Next to this camp was a granite quarry and many prisoners died carrying heavy block of granite on their backs up what became know as the "Stairway of Death". From 1938 until liberated by U.S. Forces in May of 1945, over 200,000 people were deported to Mauthausen. Around 100,000 inmates died, some 10,000 in the gas chamber, with the majority of inmates dying through mistreatment and by being ruthlessly worked to death.
This camp is one of the few that still has many of the original buildings.

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