We began Friday morning with traveling to Wittenberg. Wittenberg is a town in East Germany where the town charter was granted in 1293. This town is famous for being the place where Martin Luther lived. This is also the place where Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Castle Church doors on Octover 31, 1517. As a group we walked around the city for a short time.
The first stop in the town was at Martin Luther’s house. His house is now a museum that can be toured but we arrived before it had opened. The next stop was at the Town Church. The Town Church was behind the market square and is known for the two towers it has. At this church was where Martin Luther would preach as well as where he married his wife, Katharina Von Bora. The church was also significant to Martin Luther because that is where his children were baptized.
Lastly, we stopped by Castle Church, the place where Martin Luther nailed his Theses. Martin Luther would only sometimes preach at Castle Church. Martin Luther is also buried at Castle church under the pulpit where he would do his preaching. The original doors that Martin Luther nailed his theses burnt down but now there are 2 bronze doors that have all 95 theses in Latin engraved on the door. The church was also closed so our viewing was from outside of the church.
After we saw the town of Wittenberg we began our travel toward the Mercedes-Benz factory tour.


The other day we were able to visit Dachau concentration camp and tour the memorial that has been set up there. This was one of the most interesting and powerful visits on the tour. Out of respect for the thousands who had died there I did not take any photographs. We arrived at about 9am and started walking around the outside of the camp and read some of memorial plaques. We then went inside the camp and were allowed to freely wander the camp. Most the camp was demolished but some had been rebuilt or restored. Walking though these buildings, the gas chambers, the over crowded barracks, the crematorium, you were really able to get a feel for the atrocities that happened there. I think that being able to visit this camp had a really big effect on everyone in our group. I know for me, I’ve seen a fair amount of World War II movies and read a decent amount about it. Seeing a camp in person had so much more effect on me than seeing it in movies. Just being able to stand where the events happened really helped to put the events in perspective for us.
After leaving we had probably the most silent bus ride of the trip so far. Over the next few days we will begin to discuss and unpack all of the things that we have learned on this trip. I think that one of the core experiences that people will have benefited from will be from this trip will be the time we spent at Dachau concentration camp. I am excited to see exactly what everyone got out if it compared to myself.

Bremen: Mercedes-Benz

After leaving Wittenberg on Friday morning, we settled in for a four-hour drive to the Mercedes-Benz plant in Bremen, Germany. We passed the time playing games, listening to music, and reading; we also enjoyed a brief stop for lunch along the way. Unfortunately, traffic conditions resulted in us arriving at Bremen about one hour later than we had originally intended. Nevertheless, we received a wonderful tour upon arriving at the plant.
Formed in 1926, the Mercedes-Benz company is known for their luxury vehicles. Their motto is “the best or nothing”, and John “the Legend”, our tour guide, was sure to emphasize this point while he showed us the various stages of assembly for the cars. Much of the manufacturing process is automated, and it was exciting to watch the mechanical arms assemble the framework of the cars in what seemed to be an effortless manner. Free space in the plant is not to be wasted, so there were multiple times where the casual observer wondered whether the robots would crash into each other or accidentally damage the car parts as they moved them around; however, they were programmed to operate quickly and efficiently, and every movement was coordinated smoothly with the other robots nearby. John also explained that, far from relying too much on the computer and robots to do all of the work, a team of technicians is always on hand to monitor and repair the machines if necessary.
We moved from the assembly floor to the body shop, where the frame of each car is fitted with things like a windshield, seats, etc. John explained that this plant was operational around the clock, with multiple shifts of workers ensuring that the production line never stopped, night or day. With this work drive, the plant produces around 1,600 cars per day! As John put it, “time is money”, and it was clear from the efficiency and streamlined operation that we witnessed that Mercedes-Benz doesn’t plan to waste any of it.
Like every business we’ve had the opportunity to visit on this trip, Mercedes-Benz is committed to preparing for success in the future, and in addition to taking advantage of modern computer and robot technology they also plan to release a fully electric car in 2019. Overall, our class had a wonderful learning experience as we got to see firsthand why Mercedes-Benz is world-renowned and successful today, as well as how they are prepared to continue with that success tomorrow.

Steelcase and Munich


Steelcase and Munich

Upon our arrival to Munich, we went to the Steelcase learning and innovation center. This is a new building for them, which was built in 2017, and it is used to help create new ideas, help show their costumers how their business could look with their furniture, and to be an international location for customers overseas.

Our guide gave us a tour through this new building, and talked about their business. He was especially proud of how they do not have a traditional cube farm, but instead have desks that anyone can use. People are free to go where they want and work where they want. It was a very interesting idea and was good to see how some companies might have new or different ways of running their offices someday.

After the tour, we were dropped off in downtown Munich. We were able to go to the town square and explore on our own for a little while. Then it was time to go to the famous Hofbrauhaus for a group supper. This was a very cool experience. You walked in to the sound of a band playing some traditional Bavarian songs, and see long wooden tables and benches put together. We found our reserved section tucked away in the corner and enjoyed a pretzel before we had our meal. Meat(two types of pork I believe) and a kind of potato or dumpling were had for our meal. It was a very hearty meal and a neat experience to have.

Even though we only spent a little bit of time in Munich, I felt like we were able to see a bit into the specific culture of the region of Bavaria. While we traveled we could see the white and brown farmhouses, saw cuckoo clocks, and had a pretty traditional meal at a restaurant that has been there for a long time. It’s not everyday that you can say that.

Let Us Remember

The Second World War was a war filled with horrors. From the Katyn Forest Massacre to the biological warfare of the Japanese Unit 731, and from the Korean “comfort women” to the atomic bombing of Japan, one barely needs to look to through the history of World War II to find examples of human beings being horrible to other human beings. Two of these horrors came together yesterday as we visited Dachau and drove past Dresden.


Dachau represents the Holocaust, and the Nazis’ “Final Solution” to “The Jewish Problem”. The Holocaust needs very little introduction, but its sheer scale strains belief. At Dachau, between 30,000 and 45,000 people died. This is a lot of people. For some perspective, that is like killing a group of people the size of Calvin’s student body ten times. However, the number of dead at Dachau is four percent of the dead at the death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, where, at minimum, one million people died. For comparison, this is one and a half times the number of soldiers who died during the American Civil War. On a bigger scale yet, six million Jews died in the Holocaust. If some horribly bigoted person killed a group of Jews the size of Calvin’s student body every single day for four years running, he or she would still not have killed as many Jews as the Nazis did. This is before, of course, one looks at the Roma and Sinti, the homosexuals, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the communists, and all of the other groups the Nazis persecuted.

Dachau is a tribute to the dead, but it is a tribute of few words. It is does not need them. The cold efficiency of the crematorium’s design, the rows of barrack outlines, and the very air of the camp hit like a emotional sledgehammer, far more eloquent than any speech. However, five words define Dachau. The first three are found on the gate, though which the inmates and the visitors enter. The words are “Arbeit Macht Frei” (work makes free). This was the motto of the Nazi concentration camp system, a reflection of the fact that the occupants of the camp would often find release solely in a death brought about by overwork. These are the words of death.

The remaining two words that define Dachau are found on on the former parade ground, on a stone wall. The two words are “Nie Wieder” (never again). These are the words of memory, that the dead should not have died in vain, but that the horror of their death should lead those of us among the living to never allow such a terror to happen again.


On February 13, 1945, with the war almost won, Royal Air Force Bomber Command launched a raid on Dresden, aiming to burn the city to the ground. At this, they succeeded. An inferno with temperatures as high as 1500 degrees Fahrenheit devastated the city known as the “Florence of the Elbe”, guttings its buildings and immolating its citizens. Follow-up raids by Bomber Command and the US 8th Air Force contributed to the destruction. By the time the fire was out, eight square miles of the city lay in ruins. According to the best estimate, 25,000 people died in the flames.

To this day, debate rages over whether the annihilation of Dresden was justified or if it was a war crime. Arguments can be made for both sides. What is indisputable, however, is that we must not forget the horror that visited Dresden on February 13, 1945. War may be hell, as William T. Sherman so bluntly put it, but that does not mean that hell should be intentionally inflicted on other people.

Both Dachau and Dresden mark the capacity of humans to be cruel to humans. Even though several of Dresden’s architectural landmarks have been rebuilt, and Dachau has been significantly remodelled, the scars of the horrors that happened there still show today. Let us remember these scars.

Wittenberg and Bremen Germany

Today was one of our biggest travel days.  We left Leipzig fairly early and drove to Wittenberg, Luther’s hometown.  We had a chance to see the city, Luther’s home, and the two churches that Luther worked in.  Unfortunately, none of them were open when we were there, but we did see them from the outside, including the doors with the 95 theses.

From Wittenberg, we traveled for several hours to arrive in Bremen, Germany.  Our progress was slowed by a major traffic jam which was caused by an accident involving a car and two trucks.  The cab on the second truck looked to be completely crushed and looked very serious for the driver.  We arrived at Mercedes-Benz in Bremen for our tour of the plant, including walking through the robotic body assembly plant and the final assembly plant.  Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures in the assembly buildings.  It was an amazing tour!

After that, we arrived at our hotel and then walked to the Schuttinger Restaurant for our group dinner.  After dinner, we were able to walk around the old city of Bremen at night.  It is a beautiful city!

Gentex: Erlenbach, Germany

We began our day by visiting the high technology electronics company, Gentex. They’re based in Zeeland, MI, but have offices for distribution in Germany, Japan, and China. The tour started with a presentation given by their operations and engineering staff, along with food and drinks at our tables to snack on. Of course, for a group of college students this was a great start to our long day.

Gentex makes products in industries like automotive, aerospace, and fire protection. However, I felt our tour and discussions with Gentex evolved around their automotive industry more so. This makes sense as Gentex is the world’s leading supplier of auto-dimming mirrors. I think they’re very excited with the innovative work they have been developing for clients in Germany. These clients consist of automakers like BMW, Mercedes, and Volkswagen.

After the staff’s presentation we split into smaller groups to tour their facility. My group saw how the warehouse was operated by a well trained staff. As a business major, I got plenty of discussion from the engineers in the group on how an automated system would be a  more efficient way to run the warehouse, that’s why Calvin students are simply the best.

Next, we got the privilege to see how the cars rear view and side mirrors worked. Gentex employees gave us test drives in prototype cars to show us exactly what their products are capable of. Sadly, none of us were given the chance to take the cars for a spin. The most fascinating part of Gentex’s design was the camera located behind the small blade atena of the car. This allowed you to have better vision when viewing what’s behind you. The camera was helpful if you had someone in the back seat blocking your view or had something piled to high in the trunk. To finish, we watched a video of Gentex’s equipment used in a variety of scenarios along with what can be possible in the future for the company. Overall, I think we had a great visit with Gentex that was beneficial for every person in the group.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Today we visited the neuschwanstein castle which is located in Bavaria, Germany. The famous Disney castle was based off of this castle.  As we departed from the bus, we were hit with a fresh breeze of frigid air. Snow was falling ever so slightly and covered the ground around us. Above us stood the castle. A magnificent sight that protruded from the snowy trees around it.

The hike up took about 20 minutes with every step leaving a footprint in the snow behind. In order to pass the time and keep our bloody flowing, we decided to start a snowball fight. From this point on, the ascension now became filled with paranoia as we never knew when a snowball was going to come flying into our bodies. After about twenty minutes of laughter, adrenaline, and snow in the face, we finally made it to the castle.

The inside of the castle was magnificent. From the intricate carvings of wood to the numerous paintings scattered throughout, everything came together to create a masterpiece. My favorite part of the castle was the garden, filled with lights and plants and rushing water, where King Ludwig would spend his time in solitude. As awesome as the castle was however, I do not think I could live in such a gigantic place away from the daily bustle of life.

Dachau, Nurnberg, Leipzig Germany

We covered a lot of miles today, but we did make stops at three significant places.  The first place was the Dachau Concentration Camp which is just north of Munich.  Visiting the camp is a very sobering experience when you realize how horribly some humans treated other humans.  Unfortunately, some atrocities are still committed today.  We were able to walk around, seeing several original buildings and some re-built buildings.

After leaving Dachau, we drove north to the city of Nurnberg.  The city is infamous for being Hitler’s “home” city and for the war crimes trials after WWII.  Much of the city is rebuilt and is now a vibrant/modern city.  Outside the city we stopped at the Zepplin-platz or the grand stands where Hitler held many rallies for his supporters.  It is currently used for watching car races.  We had some time in the center of the city to find some lunch.

Our final stop was Leipzig, Germany, where we are staying for the night.  Leipzig is known as Bach’s home town and as the place were protests about the Berlin Wall began several years before the wall came down.  After checking into the hotel, we had supper at the Ratskeller restaurant.  It was an excellent meal.  We then went on a short walking tour past Bach’s church and much of the center of the city.

Neuwschwanstein Castle and Munich

Today we left the hotel, loaded up with some sack lunches.  Our travel on the highways and side roads was very challenging as we had times  of heavy snow, wind, icy roads, and drifting snow over the roads.  Our first stop was the Neuwschwanstein castle in southern Bavaria.  After getting our tickets, we then had a 25 minute climb up a mountain road to get to the castle.  When we got to the castle, it was snowing heavily with strong winds and it was difficult to see the castle.  The tour was excellent. Afterwards, we came down from the mountain and then climbed on the bus with our sack lunch.

Our next brief stop is know as Wieskirche or the church in the meadow.  It was a beautiful example of baroque architecture.  The outside was plain but the inside was amazingly ornate in white, gold, and marble.

We then headed to Munich with our first stop at the Steelcase Learning+Innovation Center.  This is a working showcase of effective ways to configure an office environment.  Klaus and Helmut walked us around and explained what we were seeing.  It was an excellent look at up and coming office environments.

Our final stop was downtown Munich.  We stopped at the Marionplatz and the students had a short time to explore before we had a huge meal at the Hoffbrauhaus.