Part 4: Germany
Heading east on the Auto-route, we admired the pristine, green swaths of agricultural fields showcasing the beauty of rural France. French farmers live in centuries-old villages, rather than living in farms. How rare, to see spectacular scenery right off a super highway!
We reached Germany by mid-afternoon, and eagerly shifted our focus to the Autobahn, particularly those sections without speed limits. Jimmy was driving and, going for the gold, got the Chateau up to 140km/hr! As we approached heavy traffic near Stuttgart, I took over. My trusty Garmin got us to the Stigenberger Graf Zeppelin Hotel, across the street from the main train station. I had stayed there previously, as it is connected to PCA. As one of the best hotels in Stuttgart, it is the preferred corporate hotel for Porsche A.G. At check-in, the pretty desk clerk asked if we planned to go visit the Biergarten. After unpacking, obviously the Biergarten was our next immediate priority! We did not connect the dots and realize that Germany was playing Portugal in the soccer World Cup.
The Biergarten is in a park east of the station, ten minutes walk from the hotel. As we approached, crowds of soccer fans were streaming slowly into a long waiting line. We entered to find the Biergarten jammed with 3000 nationalistic fans chanting and cheering. Grabbing our liters of beer and ‘wursts we attempted to find a place to sit, finally ending up on two benches that were only half-filled because chestnut tree limbs blocked the view of the screen. But no matter! The crazy atmosphere fueled our fires! And the bier didn’t hurt either.
The cheering became deafening when Germany won 4-1! The crowds wound down, and a group sitting nearby noticed us Americans, wearing Porsche gear. We struck up a conversation. It turned out, they were engineers for Porsche in Weissach (the Porsche R&D Center) and were working on the next iteration of the 911 engine. How cool! The three men and two women were very interested in our cars and PCA activities, including DE and club racing. They disavowed any involvement with the intermediate shaft bearing issue, when I asked, claiming it was before their time.
In a celebratory mood, Jimmy and I went sightseeing in downtown Stuttgart while David explored the hotel cigar lounge. That night Jimmy and David enjoyed the heavenly pleasures of Cuban cigars and single-malt scotch.
Tuesday morning came with our itinerary set: a factory tour and two museums. Crossing the street, we took a train to Zuffenhausen, a suburb near Stuttgart. The factory tour was set at 2:00 PM, so the Museum was our first stop
The exhibition of 2014 was a fitting and elaborate tribute to Porsche’s successes at LeMans. It was unbelivable! I went crazy with my camera! Jimmy and David reflected on the cars’ racing history while I photographed the cars. It is absolutely a world-class facility. Our lunch, at the Christophorus restaurant on the top floor, was fabulous. In spite of the staggering cost, none of us regretted it.
Before the factory tour, in the lobby, we had to hand over cameras and cell phones for safe keeping, as photography is prohibited. According to Germany’s laws, it is illegal to photograph someone without permission. Apparently, the workers Union had pushed the issue with Porsche. The tour itself was similar to one I had taken it in 2004, demonstrating the hand assembly of the cars. A team of workers completes each specific assembly task as parts arrive on a robot trolley, and there is a time limit to complete the task. A key difference from 2004 was that back then, each engine was hand assembled by one worker. After assembly the engines went directly to a dyno for testing. The worker had to get it right or there would be consequences. There is a new engine assembly building and an assembly line. I recall that the line turns out about 1400 engines per day. The Zuffenhausen plant is quite small, with no room to grow outward, so every part of the operation must be efficient. The pathway for the trollies and the tour path share the same space so you have to be careful not to get run over. I think the trollies have sensors that stops them, but who knows?
The tour ended around 3:30 PM, and we caught a taxi to the new Mercedes Museum. The self-tour starts on the seventh floor and winds downward in a circular pattern, starting from the very first automobiles in the 1890s to the race cars of today. It was very impressive! Especially the “silver arrow” race cars of the 1930s, and the classic gull wing coupe of the 1950s. With only 2 hours until closing, we didn’t have time to fully enjoy all the exhibits. At the snack bar, I ran into Bob K, another friend from the Porsche Club. He was with some PCAers from home, on parallel trip to LeMans and Stuttgart! Bob’s friend Ken was the trip photographer and had shot close to 10,000 images during the trip. Now there’s an editing job for when he gets home!
Wednesday morning came too soon. We checked out from the Graf Zepplin, for our final in excursion in Germany. The Rhine River cruise began in Rudeshiem at 11:00 AM, requiring some serious driving over 125 miles from Stuttgart. I was gunning it over 165 kmph! We made it with 15 minutes to spare! The two-hour day-cruise traversed the most scenic area of the middle-Rhine. We enjoyed the views of castles built on hilltops, hillside vineyards, and picturesque villages along the riverbank. The cruise ended at St. Goarshausen, another town, where we had lunch. We took a train back to Rudesheim to retrieve the Chateau.
David drove it back to France and CDG Airport. He maintained 160km/hr. on the Autobahn, but still did not top my speeds from earlier! It felt like a long drive back to Paris, the only bright spot being the anticipation of our “second” vacation.
I met Mary, Suzie, and Becca for our week in the City of Lights. David and his wife took off for a whirlwind tour of Paris and London. Jimmy flew south for a week in Monaco with his grandkids. We said goodbyes, and agreed: All in all, it was one hell of a trip. Life is good!