The second-annual faculty-led study abroad to Germany, hosted by Dr. Ulrich Schmelzle, assistant professor of supply chain and operations management, exposed Huskies to new cultural and industrial experiences that shape their personal and professional worlds. Read a recount of their travels:
Airbus Factory Tour
Connor: We took public transportation, including a ferry, up the historic Elbe River to get to the Airbus facility. Airbus has more than just a facility in Hamburg, they have an entire manufacturing campus with their own airport. We toured the campus and got an inside scoop of their manufacturing processes. It was surprising to see how many aircrafts they produce, considering the immense complexity of aircraft. It was very exciting for me to see and hear about their manufacturing practices and compare them to my own work experiences and classroom theory. I learned more in a few-hour tour than I would have in multiple weeks of classes. It was important to me to visit Airbus because I am very interested in working in the aerospace industry. Getting to see it up close and personal was thrilling!
Lauren: Airbus was amazing. To be completely honest, it was one of the main reasons I wanted to go on this trip. It was truly fascinating to see how such a large corporation operates. It was impressive to see such incredibly organized workspaces and finely tuned procedures required to produce high-quality work. Despite the size of the aircraft fuselages they were assembling, they were still moved through the hangars assembly-line-style with different stations installing different components and completing different tasks. What I found surprising was that we visited during a time when production was paused for two weeks. I would have figured that any lost production time would have cost the company, but instead, they used this time to do the required maintenance and cleaning, which would have been very difficult to do during the production cycle. As a mechanical/aerospace engineering student, I truly appreciated the inside look into a company similar to where I hope to be working one day. I loved every minute we spent there and am even more excited for my future in this industry.
Alexa: My favorite day on the trip was Schwerin Castle. It was fairly hot on this day, but I thought it was beautiful. I learned about the history of the castle and got to see really beautiful art. The castle was built in the 1800s and most of the artwork inside is just as old or almost as old. Before the castle was built, the land was the property of the local dukes and duchesses of the time. The original castle that was there was demolished for Schwerin to take its place, and it housed the royal family of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. I found this day interesting because of the architecture, paintings, and the garden. The architecture was beautiful and intricate, with so many details everywhere. The art was also very cool to see. I really enjoyed the portraits of the residents of the castle. The garden was very well kept, and the whole grounds were interesting to walk on. It felt almost like a movie set.
Lauren: I was really excited for the opportunity to visit Berlin. There is so much history there. It was really cool to visit the Reichstag, the Victory Column, the Soviet War Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie, and the Berlin Wall. To say I “enjoyed” it feels wrong, but it was deeply humbling to walk across the same cobblestones where history was made. I could close my eyes and almost hear the screams, see the fires and blood spilled, and feel the ghosts of the past weaving among the tourists. I could look at pictures from long ago and see the places I now stood, much changed, but the same at their core. The hope, the despair, the joy, the sorrow, the love, and the death of many lingered faintly in the rainy air. Hundreds of years of history are buried in this place. Berlin is a city that changed the world, and the world changed it. It was a deeply profound and sobering experience, but I am very glad to have visited.
Connor: We took the day to visit Berlin, one of the largest cities in the European Union, and a place rich in history. It only took a few hours by train in the morning to get across the country, and we were able to get there at midmorning. We started the day by getting brunch at a restaurant close by. I got a fresh croissant with berry jam and a coffee that came with a complimentary piece of cake. Getting to eat with the sun out and Berlin Central Station in view was an unreal experience. We walked and used public transportation to first see the Reichstag, Germany’s head of parliament, the German equivalent of our US Capitol Building. It was an amazing site to see. We stopped by a small gift shop for souvenirs and headed off through the Tiergarten, Berlin’s much larger version of New York City’s Central Park, to see the Brandenburg Gate. It was an out-of-body experience to see a site that is as rich in history as this. After taking pictures and admiring the Brandenburg Gate, we made our way to Checkpoint Charlie. Seeing the Checkpoint, parts of the wall, and the remnants still embedded in the road, and hearing Ulrich’s stories on his experiences in a divided Berlin was another surreal experience. We then saw the Soviet War Memorial and the famous Victory Column. We wrapped up our time walking around the Berlin Cathedral, Altes Museum, and Lustgarten. It was surreal to see one landmark after another that held enormous historical significance. I got to learn how these historic structures felt in person and the energy you can feel standing in front of them rather than seeing them in a video or pictures. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life to see a city that is a living remnant of the most significant moments of the last 150 years of human history.
Becks Brewery Tour and Hanseatic City of Bremen
Victoria: My favorite day was when we went to Bremen and toured Beck’s Brewery. We got to start the day by exploring Bremen and its historical sights. I loved the architecture in that area and all the statues in the main plaza. We also got to walk down some cute alleyways and check out some small businesses. We visited St. Peter’s Cathedral, which was beautiful to walk around. Unfortunately the spire was closed that day, but we got to go up for an amazing view on a different day. After getting to sightsee around the area, we went to our Beck’s tour, which was by far my favorite tour of the trip. We got to learn about the history of the company, and about their brewing process and how it differs from other breweries. We also got to see some of their historic equipment and the bottling machine, which was awesome. It is definitely a field that I would be interested in, so getting to see it up close was very nice.
Mercedes Factory Tour and Hanseatic City of Bremen
Lauren: My favorite day had to be the day we spent exploring Bremen and touring the Mercedes factory. We saw a lot of amazing architecture on this trip, but walking through the streets of Bremen felt like stepping into a fairy tale. I almost expected the protagonist to come running around a corner, being chased by the palace guards. With the narrow cobblestone streets, soaring towers, and beautiful stonework, it really felt like stepping back into the Renaissance. Aside from the McDonald’s, of course. The view from St. Peter’s Cathedral Tower was also gorgeous despite the dizzying climb. Mercedes was definitely my favorite field trip. I was super surprised that we were actually allowed on the factory floor during production, but I absolutely loved seeing the robotic arms and automated systems. I could have spent all day there asking the tour guide, “What’s that for?” or “What’s that do?” Still, I was very happy to stare wide-eyed at everything and puzzle out what was going where and why, and how all those parts were put together to form a finished product. The scale and efficiency of their automated systems were especially impressive.
Hanseatic City of Lübeck (Baltic Sea)
Connor: We started the day off by going to a local flea market. We shopped around and enjoyed homemade cake and pastries. From the flea market, Ethan and I took a trip to Lübeck, a historical city about an hour northeast of Hamburg. We started off by having a sandwich at the field in front of the famous Holstentor, the western gate of the city. We then walked into the city. The first main stop was at the square in front of the city hall. There, we finished the rest of our lunch listening to a duo playing the piano and trumpet in the square. We then saw the Lübeck Cathedral, which is nearly a millennium old. Walking through the city was really interesting—the architecture and layout were different from any city I had ever seen before. Every street was cobblestone, narrow, and lined with café tables with people having lunch. We wrapped up the visit by seeing a hospital that was hundreds of years old, as well as the north gate to the city. It was very fun to get to venture out on our own to see one of the coolest places I’ve ever seen in my life.
Volkswagen Factory Tour and Autostadt Wolfsburg
Billy: My favorite study abroad day was our trip to Volkswagen. We had to wake up very early in order to make it in time for an earlier train. This enabled us to make it in time for test driving electric cars at the Autostadt. I got the opportunity to test drive a Volkswagen ID Buzz on public roads in and around Wolfsburg. We had a very good guide who showed us all the features of the car and helped us navigate the unfamiliar German roads. After the test drive, we had time to go explore the brand pavilions at the Autostadt before our factory tour. I was really disappointed that they did not showcase more cars in the Autostadt pavilions. The Skoda Pavilion was my favorite because they had a lot of their cars on display and allowed people to go inside them. After some time exploring the Autostadt, we walked back across the bridge where the train station was, and we went over to the entrance gate for the factory. We had a very good tour guide who was very knowledgeable and very enthusiastic. It was amazing to see such an operation in action. As a history fan, I found it very interesting to see that they still had bomb damage in the original building. Seeing how a roll of metal could be turned into a car and then, without even leaving cover, can be delivered to the customer at the Autostadt was truly impressive.
Ethan: August 8 revolved around cars. Visiting the Volkswagen Autostadt and its production facility in Wolfsburg was an opportunity I couldn’t wait for. From the start of the morning, my anticipation was running high. The chance to peek into a production facility that churns out a whopping 3,800 cars every day was quite something. As someone who’s got a soft spot for cars, I was eager to catch a glimpse of the assembly lines and the behind-the-scenes action, which was so full of automation and robotics.
A highlight of the day was when we got to drive the electric VW Bus (ID. Buzz) on public roads with a Volkswagen instructor. We got to see a bit of Wolfsburg and learn about Volkswagen’s electric vehicle program. It had barely been released to the public, so we were the only ones on the road. Then there was the tidbit about Volkswagen’s currywurst. Who would’ve thought an automaker would have a thing for sausages?
For someone like me who’s got a thing for cars, the Autostadt was spectacular. Each brand under the Volkswagen umbrella, like Audi and Porsche, had its own corner to shine. There was also a museum that boasted an impressive collection of cars from all over the spectrum—Lamborghini, Porsche, and even Chevrolet.
Overall, visiting the Volkswagen Autostadt and production facility was an auto enthusiast’s paradise. Getting a glimpse behind the scenes of the largest vehicle manufacturer in the world was like stepping into a playground, giving my passion for cars a lasting memory. I would recommend the experience to anyone who is interested.
About the College of Business
The Michigan Tech College of Business offers undergraduate majors in accounting, business analytics, construction management, economics, engineering management, finance, management, management information systems, and marketing, as well as a general business option. Graduate degrees include the TechMBA®, a Master of Engineering Management, a Master of Science in Accounting, and a Master of Science in Applied Natural Resource Economics.