Trains, planes and automobiles

15 February 2017

CHRIS NUTTY reports on a recent study visit he organised to look and learn about manufacturing and new technology in Germany:

Our week long programme of visits began at the Technik Museum in Speyer, a town in Rheinland-Pfalz, a 40 minute train trip from our base at the Ibis hotel in the station buildings at Heidelberg. The museum, like its counterpart at Sinsheim, in Baden-Württemberg, which we also visited, has on display a vast array of transportation technologies.

I think the star exhibits at the Speyer site are a Russian Buran space shuttle and a jumbo jet. A jumbo jet is not, you might think, such a remarkable thing, but this one is mounted 16 meters in the air at an angle as if it is climbing and you can walk through the plane and out on to the wing! For those who don’t fancy the walk back down the spiral staircase, there’s a slide.

The Sinsheim site has both a Concorde and a Tupolev Tu-144, the Russian ‘Concordski’ version, perched above the roof at an angle as if taking off. Again, you can go on both aircraft.

 

TANKS, BOATS AND LOCOS

Chris NuttyThe Speyer museum has more than 200 motorcycles and 300 cars, and this is only a small selection of the exhibits that also includes tanks, boats, and locomotives. The town of Speyer’s other star attraction is its magnificent 11th century cathedral, which we also visited.  

Our second day saw us visit the Porsche factory and museum in Stuttgart, although half way through our tour the factory stopped work to allow a meeting for workers and management to discuss recent production problems and the need to work overtime to get production back on schedule. Our guide told us that both sides are committed to ensuring that all customer delivery dates are met.

Our next port of call was an exhibition for the Stuttgart 21 project, which will see the existing main line terminal replaced by an underground through station as part of the country’s high speed rail network. The scale of the project led to protests but after a referendum work is now well underway.

In the afternoon our tour guide, Sarah Dealy of Stuttgart Steps, showed us the lesser known history of the city, including British bombing during the Second World War. Sarah showed us photos of the damage and in the old Jewish quarter pointed out the small brass plaques in the pavement that memorialise the Jewish residents who lived there and perished in the Nazi Holocaust.

She also took us on the last remaining paternoster elevator in a public building. It takes a while to get your head around the whole idea. This is an elevator that never stops; you get on, and off, while it’s moving and, just to make it safer, it has no doors. Sarah said there were plans to ban them, but they were very popular, and it has been saved by public outcry. The design is English, and dates from the 1920s.

 

MAKESHIFT FIRING SQUAD

PorsheThe tour ended at the Stauffenberg exhibition in the city centre. Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who spent his childhood in the city, was one of the leaders of the 20 July plot to kill Adolf Hitler at his Wolf’s Lair near Rastenburg in eastern Prussia. Von Stauffenberg, who planted a bomb in a briefcase under an oak conference table, was executed early the next day by a makeshift firing squad lit by the headlights of a truck.

The next day we were back in Stuttgart, exploring some of the more unusual parts of the city’s transport system. First was the rack railway from Marianplatz to Degerloch, which gives excellent views across the city. Then it was on to the funicular at Südheimer Platz. Our final stop of the day was at the Mercedes factory at Sindelfingen; many felt this was the better of the two factory visits, because of the size of the plant, and the fact that Mercedes, unlike Porsche, make many of their own components. To give you some idea of its size, the Sindelfingen plant has 10km of internal rail. Sadly, neither factory gave away free samples.

Our final day was spent at the Auto and Technik Museum at Sinsheim, then it was back home to Blighty. Train trips can be dull, but our return to the UK was via the banks of the beautiful river Rhine, and we even had a choir giving an impromptu performance for a hen party on our coach.

 

SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE

The trip demonstrated that learning can be varied and doesn’t have to take place in a classroom. EMT driver Martin Johnson said: ‘The study visit was well organised and the visits to the Porsche and Mercedes plants were fascinating for the levels of technology they use. The museums at Speyer and Sinsheim were brilliant, with something to interest everyone. Our walking tour of Stuttgart revealed places and things we’d never have found on our own, like the paternoster. Like a bunch of kids, we all had to have a ride on that!’

I arranged the educational side of the visit; the learners were responsible for booking their own travel and accommodation. We travelled via Eurostar, using our reduced staff rate, then across Belgium and around Germany on our free ATOC coupons. Learners paid for their own food and accommodation and entrance to museums. The tours of the factories, and the Stuttgart 21 exhibition, were all free, although you need to book well in advance for the factory visits. There was a charge for the Porsche museum, city tour, and Stauffenberg exhibition, but on this occasion they were funded for the learners.

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