I seriously thought our tour of the Mercedes Benz plant was awesome! It was so cool to see how the cars were made step by step. We started in their customer area where people buy cars and sellers make deals. It was beautiful, filled with fancy cars and nice furniture (hoping I’ll buy a car there some day ahahha). I thought that was a very good selling technique because the luxury of the building makes you feel like you are really important and doing big things. We watched a short video about the company and the way they make the cars, and then we headed to the plant where they engineer the bodies of the cars. I did not realize that it was all done by machine, and it was incredible to see the robots working at such fast speeds to assemble the metal parts. There were also a lot of interesting safety precautions to prevent anyone from getting injured around the high tech robots. We even had to wear safety goggles throughout the entire factory.
From there we moved on to the actual assembly line. We walked on a catwalk above everything taking place, and it was so amazing. I loved seeing the workers putting things like windshields into the colorful cars. There were so many different models and colors being assembled. It was crazy to watch how everything worked so smoothly and to imagine someone driving the cars that were sitting unfinished in front of us. The tour was super informative and interesting, probably one of my favorite business tours we have been on.
The factory was well-run, safe, and great at advertising. We were not allowed to take any pictures, but it was an awesome tour and made me think of Mercedes in a whole new light.
Throughout this trip we have encountered many WWII related items. The big ones include Corrie Ten Boom House, Anne Frank House, Luxembourg American Cemetery, Dachau Concentration Camp, Holocaust Museum and Market Garden Airborne Museum. Aside from these we visited churches and entire towns that were destroyed in the war and rebuilt and heard about how the war and Holocaust affected European culture from Joop.
All these experiences have allowed me to connect the books I’ve read and the stories I’ve heard about the Holocaust and WWII to an actual place and develop my own experience there. I now have the ability to re-read the diaries of Anne Frank and accurately picture the events in my head. Hiding in an apartment for two years (such as the Franks did) sounds difficult and scary in general, but now that I’ve been I can see that it was actually much worse than I was imagining it before and how much of a miracle it is that they lasted as long as they did.
The Holocaust museum gave me a similar experience. Prior to visiting I knew about the vastness of the tradgety but actually being there and reading quotes and the letters that kids wrote to parents in concentration camps gave me a whole new perspective. In addition, reading about how the lives of millions of people progressively got worse and worse from when antisemitic laws were put in place all the up to the eradication of entire families was gruesome but made it less historical/factual and more personal.
Throughout Germany we encountered another item that brought the Holocaust to life. Outside many homes are little plaques with names of people who lived there and were sent to concentration camps. These also helped bring to life how the Holocaust affected Europe in so many ways.
On a more positive note, it was incredible to see how Europe has rebuilt itself from the war and how they recognize the events that happened and honor the lives lost.
On our final full day in Europe we visited the city of Arnhem which is a city situated in the Eastern part of the Netherlands. We explored and ate lunch in the city and then visited the nearby town of Oosterbeek where we visited the Hartenstein Airborne Museum. The Hartenstein Airborne Museum is dedicated to the Battle of Arnhem which was a battle that took place during World War II as a part of Operation Market Garden.
Operation Market Garden was an attempt by the allies cross the Rhine River, which was one of the biggest obstacles to gaining access to Germany during the later part of the war. The operation called for a monumental airborne assault in the Netherlands to capture 8 bridges between Eindhoven, Nijmegen, and Arnhem. The operation is considered a failure as it did not reach its main objective of securing the traffic bridge at Arnhem, even though all the other bridges had been captured. The failure of the operation is attributed to poor planning and and unforeseen delays.
During our visit, we were able to see the John Frost bridge (named after the British commander who held the bridge during the operation) where so many people had lost their lives either defending it or trying to capture it. It was interesting to see since it looked like any ordinary bridge with traffic streaming across it–perhaps unaware of its significance.
At the Hartenstein Airborne Museum, there were many interesting displays and information about Operation Market Garden. One of the things the museum emphasized was the loss of Dutch lives due to starvation after the operation failed, as much of the northern part of the Netherlands was still in German hands, but was cut off from the rest of German territory. Even though the allies caused so much devastation to the Dutch people (indirectly), the Dutch people did not seem to hold any grudge against the allied forces as they saw them as liberators. The museum also had an exhibit on the Dutch resistance and the role they played during Operation Market Garden as well as a cool walk-through experience with life-sized displays.
I thought what we experienced today was a great lesson since it showed that even with great odds and poor judgement, failure can still occur, as well as how much people are willing to sacrifice for their freedom.
Growing up in a Christian reformed church my whole life made it very unique to visit the different church services on Sundays.
The second Sunday of the trip we were in Reims. The Reims cathedral was, in my opinion, the most beautiful. Sitting in on a catholic service was a whole new atmosphere. Although I could not understand most of the sermon because it was in French, it was a good experience for me to witness other areas of faith.
Each Sunday was very different in the way each denomination expressed their perspective on faith and beliefs. I loved being able to experience such a wide variety even though the language barrier made it difficult to fully know the differences between each of them.
Looking back on the trip there has been so many experiences that have helped me better understand the culture in Europe and the way that many Europeans view Americans. There have been many conversations that have been both interesting and educational. Here are some of the conversations that have stood out to me most as I look back on my time in Europe.
The first one that stands out to me is while eating lunch in Prague. A waitress who spoke very good English came up to us and asked where we were from. We later found out that she studied in New York for a Semester we were able to learn so much about the differences that she sees in Europe and America. One of the main things that she said was that she loves America and Americans, however she did say that many Europeans do feel that Americans only care about success and money.
Another conversation that stood out to me was from Bremen. While sitting at a bar a bartender from Canada started talking to us. She ended up going to Europe for school and has stayed ever since. I asked if she feels that Canadians and Europeans have the same view on Americans. According to her both Canadians and Europeans think we are greedy. But Europeans also think that Americans come off as rude a lot of the time.
These are just a few conversations that stood out. Having these conversations make me think about what I value, and if the things I value are the things I want to be remembered by.
Throughout our time here in Europe, I have learned a lot about the culture of the countries we have visited. One of the biggest things I noticed revolved around the various means of transportation. Similar to the US, many people use public transportation such as trains and buses as did we many times. When it comes to personal vehicles, however, that is where things are different. For one, a much higher percentage of people ride bikes. It didn’t matter how big or small the city was, I have never had to check my shoulder for a biker so much in my life. There are also bike lanes in the middle of the sidewalk so we really had to be careful. It appeared to me as if bikers had the right away in most places and traffic moved around them.
A lot of people drove cars as well though, but there are a lot of different rules when it comes to cars. The soonest you can get your license is 18 which, for someone who loves driving like myself, is very annoying. Some of the people I talked to said their first cars were BMW’s or Audi’s or a Benz and that that wasn’t uncommon, and that surprised me too because a lot of my friends back home drove “beaters” for their first cars but you don’t see that here. That is mostly due to the extended list of annual checks that cars must go through. One thing I found very interesting that I learned during our boat tour in Hamburg was that all of the cars that don’t pass those standards are shipped to other countries that don’t have the same rules and can be driven for many more years. I think this form of recycling is a pretty good idea and benefits many people.
The last thing that is just a little different in Germany is that the speed limits on the autobahn are only suggestions and not mandatory. This can be good and bad, but it would be quite interesting if they brought that concept to America. Don’t worry though, Joop kept us cruising just under the speed limit safe and sound!
I wanted to give myself a little time to write this because the Mercedes Benz plant was massive and it was a lot to take in. The plant was the size of some of the towns we visited, and inside the production warehouses and the production line gave the impression of complete chaos, but everything was calculated and in control. The guide told us that the production line is about 95% automated, and the other 5% is done by skilled workers. The amount of technology and part preparation that goes into such an automated system that can handle different car types with different modifications and specs must be immense, and it was. I, as someone who is not a mechanical engineering and does not want to work in production line engineering was both overwhelmed and very intrigued by their system. I wanted to know more about it, to get a more in depth analysis, but if course that would have been confidential and taken way more than the 2 hour visit we had.
Some of the numbers the guide talked about was 2200 spot welds per car, 22 stages for coating and painting per car, and that they produce 1800 cars per day. Those numbers sound ridiculous until you see the robotic arms they use and the size of the plant.
Throughout this trip in Europe, I have noticed multiple differences in restaurant etiquette in comparison to the United States. Some cultural differences are the doors, the drinks, the waiters and waitresses, and tipping for the meal.
To begin with, the doors entering a restaurant are different than United States. The doors usually do not say pull or push next to the handle, so you would have to look at the hinges to properly open the door. I believe in America you usually pull the door before you enter, but in Europe I think you push to enter someplace more often.
Once you get the menu you would look at the drink menu to decide on what you would like to drink. The Europe culture of drinks would come as a surprise to Americans because water costs money. Water usually costs between two to three euros while wine could cost around four or five euros. Since you have to pay for water, Europeans would usually get coffee, beer, or wine as their drink of choice instead.
The waiters and waitresses have a different role in Europe than the United States because of the different culture involving water. In America, waiters and waitresses would come to the table often to refill your glass of water. Comparatively, Europeans that pay for a glass of water will not get refills resulting in the waiters or waitresses to not come to the table as often.
After eating a delicious meal, it is time to decide on how much to pay. In the United States it is a cultural standard to pay a tip to the waiter or waitress around 20%. In comparison, a European waiter or waitress would not expect to receive a tip. European waiters or waitresses are already receiving at least minimum wage without tips included, so it is not necessary to give them a tip. A tip of 5% in Europe is very generous.
The next time I go to a restaurant in the United States I will remember how different it was in Europe.
We have visited so many businesses and neat places so far. One thing I have found most interesting is how different products need to be made based on limitations and regulations of different countries.
I first saw this at Vermeer. In Europe you aren’t able to tow as much weight behind your vehicle so they have to have different models for farming equipment based on different things. I have definitely learned to appreciate more of work that goes in to an operation. Even at Mercedes today there are so many unique things for one car in different places. One common example is just simply the side of the car that the steering wheel is on.
I can definitely say from all of these visits I can understand and appreciate more of the work that engineers do. From designing storm surge barriers to designing cars, it was really cool to see the big things they do behind the scenes.
The group had the great privilege of touring the Mercedes Benz production facility here in Bremmen. It was a really cool experience for the engineering students to see the 95% automated line producing many different models and colors of luxury vehicles. We started the tour with a brief presentation informing us that this plant produced just under 2000 cars a day for over 20 different countries. We then made our way to the line and saw the body of the car being assembled with mostly robotic welding arms, but also industrial glue and rivets made by similar robotic arm. The cycle time was just over a minute and we could see several models of cars come together in just a matter of minutes. After the body is formed, assembled, and painted, all completely automated with no human interference, all of the car components were inserted robotically and the chasse was monted by hand with the help of a hand-held power drill. From the limited glance we received it seemed as though the whole chasse was monted by hand with just two bolts in each of the driver and passenger sides. The rest of the assembly we saw was all done by machine assisted manual labor where each and every car was a different model and color and the workers assembled the rest of the unique pieces to that car by hand. It was a great experience for mechanical engineers looking to get a taste of process control engineering like myself. As we were leaving we got to see the test track in use for one of the new cars as well as a concept car in the main lobby. Overall it was an incredible experience and many members of the group and I were gitty with excitement and infused with renewed commitment for learning to someday be able to so something like this with our degree.