In July this year the Autostadt automotive theme park welcomed its 25,000,000 visitor. Located two hours’ drive west of Berlin, it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in Germany. But apart from the stunning architecture, ‘brand’ pavilions, 13 restaurants and the renowned ZeitHaus, I’m convinced that many people visit because the Autostadt’s employees are among the happiest I’ve met in Germany.
ZeitHaus, the world's most frequently-visited automotive museum, is the Autostadt’s top attraction. Alongside its historical Volkswagen cars are ‘milestone’ vehicles like a 1912 Bugatti T15 – painted yellow by Ettore Bugatti for his wife who loved the colour of French post boxes, a forest green Benz ‘Velo Comfortable’ (1899 price: 200 Gold Marks), numerous Bentleys and an outrageously-finned 1959 Cadillac.
Beyond the ZeitHaus, around the 28 hectares park, are eight ‘brand’ pavilions, one each for Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, Lamborghini, SEAT, Škoda and VW Commercial Vehicles. The Premium Clubhouse – designed by British architect Stephen Williams – features a single Bugatti Veyron, its body work reworked in mirror glass by artist Olaf Nicolai. The arts and artistic works are everywhere on the site, in the sculptures and mobiles, as well as in hugely popular recent performances by Sting and Peter Gabriel, Bejart Ballet Lausanne and Danza Contemporánea de Cuba.
Visitors are also drawn to Wolfsburg to explore developments in vehicle design and technology in the CarDesign Studio, or to consider the environmental impact of Western lifestyles in Level Green – The Concept of Sustainability. Children learn how to reduce their carbon footprint, design their own car and can take a driving test. Every day some 500 car buyers collect their new vehicle at the CustomerCenter, the world’s largest vehicle delivery facility, and any visitor can see those cars in the two, soaring glass CarTowers, each of which holds 400 vehicles waiting for delivery.
In the summer the Mittelland Canal is transformed into the ‘Cool Summer Island’, with beach chairs, chunky lifeguards and waitresses dressed in baby-doll pink. In winter the chimneys above the VW power plant become the world’s tallest Advent candles, and visitors enjoy ice skating, festive light shows and a full-scale Christmas market.
But for me, above all, the Autostadt employees’ smiles, and their willingness to help, will stay with me. I’m not a motor enthusiast. All I look for in a car is its ability to move forward. But time and again in Wolfsburg I was struck by people’s remarkable pride in their product, and for the company itself.