Yesterday we went to the Mercedes-Benz plant and toured some of their manufacturing facilities. The plant in Bremen is Mercedes’ largest manufacturing facility, capable of producing 480 cars in a day and employing near 12,500 people. The plant is a sprawling complex with many buildings. We started our tour off with a Mercedes propaganda video about their business and the cars they produce. After that we set off with our tour guide Max to see the actual facilities. We got to see the different steps of manufacturing the cars, from the assembly of the frame, all the way up to the finishing touches and an assembled, driveable car leaves the line and heads to post-production testing.
Seeing all the different steps of the manufacturing process, I couldn’t help but think about the insane logistics, planning, and organizational capabilities that they have at the plant. They are able to produce so many different types of cars, and customized variants of those cars, all at the same time, along the same line with the same workers from car to car. It doesn’t take much for you to be able to think up almost endless problems that could occur on the line which could throw off the whole production process. They planning and maintenance crews must be meticulous in order to ensure smooth and continuous operation 24 hours a day.
Another thing that struck me about the tour was the conditions that the workers had at the factory. Our tour guide said that the employees are treated extremely well, with the plant operating only 5 days a week, sometimes 6 if they are behind. But the workers are highly valued and appreciated at the facility. Our tour guide always referred to the workers on the floor as his “colleagues” showing the level of respect that the people who work in the front office have for those who assemble the cars. Our tour guide said that many of the workers there work at the factory for their whole lives. I don’t know a lot about auto manufacturing in the US, but it seems to me like the conditions and respect afforded to the workers at the Mercedes plant would be hard to find in our go, go, go and survival of the fittest culture in the US.
During our time in Europe so far we have seen many different monuments, memorials, historical sites, and many cathedrals. Visiting the cathedrals has been a very interesting experience. One of the things that struck me the most was that Europe is filled with so many restored and/or preserved cathedrals that serve no functional purpose other than historical sites. The majority of old cathedrals and and churches we have been too no longer hold church services. Many have an entry fee to simply get in to see the sanctuary, solidifying their status as memorials and tourist attractions.
I find it odd that people here do care a deep amount for the cathedrals and they are very important to the cities that they exist in, but only for their historical value. Participation in organized religion in Europe is almost non-existent based on what I’ve seen. In some countries, reports show that an overwhelming majority of people identify as atheist, such as the Czech Republic where a whopping 78% of people have no religious affiliation or beliefs. I don’t understand how in the span of a century, from the time when my grandpa was born in the Netherlands until now, Europe has gone from being staunchly religious to almost completely irreligious. People may claim to believe in God or that they say their prayers and are moral people, but they have no affiliation with organised religion.
Personally I find this reality saddening. Europe has largely turned its back on God, and I can’t help but wonder why. Talking to our bus driver Joop, who himself claims to be religious but said he never attends church services, he said that he thinks people are so irreligious because things are so good in Europe right now, and people think that they don’t need God because of that. This is a valid point, but it seems like the US should be seeing similar levels of irreligiousness as Europe, but yet the US is overwhelmingly more religious than Europe from what I have seen, read, and experienced. I don’t really have a good explanation for why Europe has given up on religion. It saddens me to see the current state of religion in Europe because of this and it has tainted some of the cathedral experiences with that knowledge in mind.
Today we visited the Luxembourg American Cemetery after spending the morning in Reims for a traditional French Catholic mass and lunch in the town. The cemetery was designed to honor those who sacrificed their lives in the US army during the Battle of the Bulge in WWII. The cemetery originally started out as a temporary grave site for those who died during the battle and was later turned into an official US monument to honor those who died. After the war, families of the deceased were given the choice of having the remains of their loved ones repatriated, or to have them permanently interned at the cemetery in Luxembourg with a traditional US burial at the memorial cemetery. Many people chose to have the remains of their loved ones repatriated, but many also chose to have their loved ones remain in Luxembourg. 5,076 of those who died remain buried at the cemetery to this day.
When we arrived at the cemetery it had begun to rain, which helped set the mood for the visit and tour of the cemetery. We started out with a guided tour of the cemetery, which included a history of the Battle of the Bulge, and a time to walk through the cemetery and see the graves of those who gave their lives and to explore the memorial that was built. After our tour, we had the extremely special opportunity to assist in the lowering of the US flags at the cemetery. As the chapel played out the tune of Taps, the flags were lowered, and then some of us volunteered to help fold the flags in the proper manner.
The whole experience was very somber, different from a lot of other experiences that we have had on this trip so far. The things that we learned about the Battle of the Bulge was very interesting and new to many of us. As we visited the memorial, I reflected on the fact that the men who were buried here were the age of the guys on the trip, myself included. To think that one of the most pivotal wars in all of human history was won by young men our age was a very sobering thought. The immense bravery and courage required of those young men some 70 years ago is something that most cannot relate to these days. War is a foreign concept to most young people today, yet we are still thankful for the sacrifices that those before us made to allow us the freedoms that we enjoy today.