What better place to start a Germany road trip than the automotive capital of Germany? Every 4 people who live in Stuttgart are in automotive industry. Not only do you have a Mercedes Automobile Museum, Porsche museum and track, and Mercedes plant that is the size of a small city, but you also have plenty of other automotive things to do in Stuttgart.
Inside the Mercedes plant run by robots, courtesy of Mercedes.
The Birth of the Automobile
I decided to start at the beginning, the Mercedes museum, to learn about the history of the automobile. I observed the sleek modern architecture as I rode the glass elevator to the top floor of the museum. It was all very impressive – and white. However the elevator doors opened and I stepped back in time. In front of me was a replica of the first modern gas engine, the one that became the model for all automobiles to come.
I looked at the engine and honestly wasn’t very impressed, but every step I took from that point my attitude changed. The museum was a walk through the history of the engine and the car industry as I expected, but it was also an in-depth look at world history and how the gas engine shaped it. And that was the part I hadn’t expected.
Visitors spiraled downward through the floors of the museum viewing different cars on display while be reminded of important points in history. The historical points chosen were surprising – Elvis, the Beatles, Berlin wall, student protests, the movie Saturday Night Fever, ET, HIV Aids, Chernobyl, Nelson Mandela, the fall of the wall, the intro of the internet, fall of USSR, the introduction of the euro, social networks, and finally climate change. It made me stop and think about the massive change we go through in a lifetime. It was overwhelming to take in.
The one historical board that struck me was the 1973 picture of car-less, empty autobahn in what was termed Autobahn Sunday. Thanks to the oil crisis, our modern world of cars had come to a halt. The world had become so reliant on oil and the gas engine at that point that it was the moment we (the West) realized that we were reliant on the Middle East. Essentially – the beginning of a global economy.
The Marriage of an Automobile – Mercedes Plant Tour
“Drive Train, do you take the Body Shell to be your lawfully wedded car?”
I was ‘a guest’ watching the ‘wedding’ of an automobile at the Mercedes Plant in Stuttgart; the next logical step in my automotive things to do in Stuttgart.
Car lovers and tourists can visit the S Class production line just outside of Stuttgart in Sindelfingen and see how the car’s body and drive train get made on separate lines and how it’s ‘wed’ all together. If you are slightly automotive obsessed or just plain geeky, you’ll want to put this on your ‘must see’ list for Stuttgart.
This is the largest Mercedes plant in the world employing 35,000 people and producing 1,700 cars per day. Each day 200 cars are picked up directly by customers, 1,000 depart via train, and 500 via truck. The plant is like a medium sized town with the Plant Manager being the mayor; a mayor who gets paid a lot more than a regular town mayor. The factory has it’s own power plant and train tracks. Mercedes is the most important employer in the area with over 370,000 cars produced here last year alone.
The campus of the Mercedes Plant outside of Stuttgart.
The tour, which strictly forbids cameras or recording, starts at the creation of the car body, and then moves you through to the drive train, interior, and finished touches as it rolls off he line ready for delivery.
I stood there on the factory floor watching robots that looked like Star Wars work the assembly line; it was astonishing. Even the forklifts ran themselves. And it gave me a whole new love and respect for engineering and tech geeks as they really are the scientists of today’s modern age.
The body shell line runs 24 hours primarily by robots, which basically look like robotic arms. The robots moved rapidly all around me in such precision that it was mind boggling to think about what human actually programed all of this. After all, a human had to be involved at some point in this process – right? Our guide quipped, “The Robots are great, but they only have one problem, they don’t buy Mercedes.”
The robots can do everything else though, they can even ‘see’. There was one station where robots holding little cameras slowly examine the welds (made by other robots) to ensure they are in the exact right spots. If they find inconsistency, then they recalibrate themselves.
Big screens hung from the ceiling displaying the goals for the day and how the robot team or the human teams are doing against the goal. As we walked through the plant, I noticed that the robots were -9. I wondered if they were worried or stressed about catching up.
Seriously – that day when the machines take over the world and are able to think for themselves is coming…
Mercedes Plant Tour in Stuttgart
The tour is FREE and lasts 2 hours.
Monday-Friday 1:30PM offered in English
Monday – Wednesday and Friday 9:30 am and 2:00 pm – German
Thursday 8:15 am and 2:00 pm – German
Reservations are required in advance by phone:+49 (0) 7031 90-7 04 03.
Don’t Forget the Honeymoon
While in Stuttgart, you’ll need to find a place to stay, so why not sleep in a car? The V8 Hotel is located in an old airport near the Mercedes plant, and is now home to an auto extravaganza called Motorworld. Each room has been impeccably designed in a different car theme. The furniture in the room goes with the theme and every bed is made out of an actual car body. I stayed in the Herbie Love Bug room and slept in the love bug. The theme rooms are inventive; every little detail down to the soap was car themed. Even the lights on the car/bed worked!
As a kid, Simon, used to shut his eyes and listen to the sound of engines and try to guess the car model. It’s fitting that Simon grew up to be the owner of the V8 Hotel! He showed me around the hotel and Motorworld facilities and I quickly realized that I had stepped into a car fanatic’s dream, a huge airplane hanger facility full of vintage cars. This is a place where Jerry Seinfeld would lust about. Not only do people store their vintage cars here in glass garages, but this is also a place where vintage cars are serviced restored and you even can watch the process.
Among all of these classic luxury cars, my favorite was an old rusted out Dodge pickup that Simon owned and was parked in the lobby of the hotel. He said that he didn’t want to restore it and leave it as is. I think when people are surrounded by constant beauty and perfection they must long for what they don’t have.
Simon is actually adding on to the hotel, adding more themed and luxury rooms. He will even have a luxury room where you can sleep with your new car you just picked up from the Mercedes plant next door. Your bed will be located next to a glass garage where your new car ‘sleeps’.
V8 Hotel and Motorworld in Stuttgart
You can stay at the V8 Hotel and sleep in a car themed room. V8 has special packages that include factory tours and museum visits. Guests can even rent vintage cars for a day via the V8 Hotel and drive them up to 250 miles.
Start Your Engines in Stuttgart
Stuttgart was the beginning of my road trip though Germany, and it certainly got me in the right ‘driving’ mood. From the history, to the creation, to the honeymoon, Stuttgart was the perfect place to start a Germany road trip.