I woke up around 0715 this morning and began gathering my things together and packing away what items I could. Dan and Chelsea were planning to head out early and catch their train to Paris. Kerri and Theo also had a train booked, but their destination was Berlin. After morning showers everyone pitched in to do their part in cleaning the communal areas. Rob made us all breakfast with the remaining eggs and bacon that we had at the house. Dan and Chelsea had to leave the earliest so we said our goodbyes to them and finished packing our things. And then there were four. Rob and Mandy were all ready to go and went to say our goodbyes to Kerri and Theo. It turns out they were also ready to go. So we headed off together to the train station to go to Munchen Hauptbahnhof (Hbf.). This is Munich's central station. I was starting to get nervous because Rob and I had a tour booked at 11:30 at the Audi Forum in Ingolstadt but we still needed to buy train tickets and I wasn't sure that we would make it in time. Once we got to Munchen Hbf, we waited in line for information at what appeared to be a ticket counter. It may have been a place to get tickets, but not for DB, which is what we needed to get us to Ingolstadt. The lady politely gave us directions for where we needed to be. We quickly made our way to the ticket kiosk for DB trains. Kerri and Theo were behind us as they needed to pickup tickets they had already purchased. I found the tickets we needed and purchased them as quickly as I possibly could. It took about 5 tries because the card wasn’t working for some reason. Our train was leaving in 4 minutes!! We quickly said goodbye to Kerri and Theo and ran off towards platform 16. And then there were two.
We got on the train as the doors closed behind us. We found seats as we started rolling down the tracks. The ride was very quiet and smooth as we rolled through very scenic farmlands. It took us about an hour, and we disembarked at the end of the line at Ingolstadt Hbf. We quickly found a locker on the train platform to throw all our gear into. I raced to get change so that we could pay for the locker. Four “euro dollars” later, we exited with minimal time to spare, and quickly found a taxi to take us to the Audi Forum. We arrived and checked in just minutes before the tour began. Alexandra introduced herself as our guide, and began giving us the history and safety information. After a brief video, we got onto a bus to take us across the gigantic factory. We stepped inside the body shop and watched as hundreds of robots worked in harmony to form complex welded assemblies. We saw a very impressive automated conveyor system which delivered these weldments to each successive location for higher-level assembly. By the end of the body shop line, raw flat steel has been formed and welded and glued together into the vague shape of a vehicle. It is far from complete, however.
We hopped back into the bus before we could see the rest of the process. We followed Alexandra into the assembly shop. Here we could see a rainbow of different colored A3s and Q2s in all different trim levels being final-assembled. It was fascinating to see that they are each assembled in a seemingly random order. I guess I expected that they would build, for example, all the base level trim A3s first, then S3s after, so that the parts wouldn't get all mixed up. But apparently they have all that taken care of by a very carefully controlled just-in-sequence manufacturing system. There is much more manual labor involved in final assembly than the body shop, but that is not to say that there isn't a lot of automation and mechanical assistance. The tooling involved is absolutely fascinating. We got to see the marriage of the chassis with engine/drivetrain assemblies, assembly of wheels, interior bits, and so much more. By the end of the final assembly line, vehicles are driven off the automatic conveyor under their own power. From here they are scrutinized at a final quality checkpoint. Then they are ready for delivery to the customer.
The sheer numbers Alexandra fed to us were astounding. They can produce up to 400 cars per day. The factory covers something like 2 and a half million square meters. There are 44,000 employees in the Ingolstadt factory alone; it’s a large city. It boggles the mind. We very much enjoyed the tour, though by the end we were quite hungry. We made our way towards the museum but stopped in first at the on-site restaurant. That one is for employees only, so we went across the parking lot to a different restaurant. I had a delicious schnitzel, with fries. I had a currywurst, also with fries. After we got some food in our bellies, we checked out the museum. There, Audi displays a huge amount of their history, going back to times before they were Audi, but four separate companies. From there, they became Auto Union for a time, before becoming Audi. There are a lot of really neat cars and motorcycles on display here. There's also a lot of rather boring ones that didn't catch our eye; think mid-70s and 80s econoboxes. Once we reached the ground floor of the museum, we exited onto the street to try to figure out how to get back to our luggage.
We walked up the street a short distance in search of a bus station that was on the correct side of the street. No luck. So we turned around and realized that we had walked past it at the start. We bought the ticket to ride the ride. After about 15 minutes on the bus (which was how long the taxi ride earlier took), we began to wonder aloud if we were in fact on the right bus. Or if we had somehow missed our stop. Just before a real panic was able to take hold, the name of our stop appeared on the screen of upcoming stops. WHEW! We hopped out, back at Ingolstadt Hbf. and collected our gear. We purchased tickets to our next destination and found the correct platform. Our itinerary had us take a train from Ingolstadt to Augsburg. From there, we were supposed to take a train to Karlsruhe. However, the train we were on arrived late to Augsburg and we missed the connection. Our itinerary showed about 13 minutes to make the transfer, which should have been plenty. However, we disembarked the train about 6 minutes after we were supposed to be leaving the station on the next train and our train was already gone. So we found the information booth and requested to be rerouted, which was handled quickly, and with no charge to us. Relieved, we set out to find a coffee to kill a little time. We found a cafe just across the street, and started to relax for a minute. I was just beginning to dig into my pack for my jacket when Mandy said, "What is 'zeit'?" with the new itinerary in hand. I told her it means “time”. “This train leaves Munich at 1845, but how do we get there?” Oh no. So we ran across the street back into the train station, to see that the first train we needed was not listed on the new itinerary. But luckily we had about 15 minutes before the next train left to go to Munich. We made our way to the platform, and waited patiently. For a train that never came. The platform was reassigned, and a different train was set to take us to Munich. Back to Munich. We got on and got seated. It was approximately 6pm. We tried to relax for about an hour; the duration of the trip back to Munich.
When we got back to Munich, we had to transfer to yet another train which would take us to Mannheim. We had about 15 minutes for this transfer, which happened smoothly. We found some seats with a table between and got comfy. This train ride would be almost three hours, but there was work to be done. Thankfully, this train offered free WiFi onboard. We connected all our devices and tried to get accustomed to working with the arduously slow internet connection. Mandy worked housing and Rob worked on the blog. About halfway through the trip, we had a quasi-confirmed place to stay and a couple posts ready to send out. Getting the pictures uploaded was s o o o s l o w. We were comforted to know that although we would be getting in late, we probably had a place to stay for the night. We were able to heave a sigh of relief and actually relax for the remainder of the train ride. You take it when you can get it while backpacking, because the rest of the time is gogogo.
We arrived in Mannheim and searched for our next connection. This train was to take us to Rastatt. We found a platform which showed the next train was headed there, but the train number was different than what our itinerary showed. It also showed that the train was delayed one hour. By now, it was about 10:30pm, so when we saw that, we were both leaning toward seeing if we could just spend the night in Mannheim. An hour delay would mean we’d get to our final destination at about 1:30-2am. We searched for an information booth, to confirm that we wouldn’t have to pay if we just completed our journey the following day. The woman at the kiosk explained that the train we wanted was leaving in 2 minutes. So we scrapped the plan of staying the night, and dashed back to the platform. We arrived just in time to wait for the train to arrive in two minutes. We found seats while we caught our breath. The train took off and we rode about 45 minutes through pitch black lands.
We got off in Rastatt where we learned that there is a section of train under construction. So the next leg of our trip was by bus. Since we were some of the last to cram in, we were stuck standing. I did my best to not move for the entire ride, so I didn’t disturb any passengers with my pack. After about 15 minutes, the bus began to get really hot inside, and smelly. At about the 25 minute mark, we finally stopped. We were in Baden-Baden! Finally in the same town as our hotel. It was approximately midnight. Unsure how far it was exactly to the hotel, we found a map. With no scale, it was hard to be sure, but it looked far. We asked a man who looked like he worked at the station how best to get to our hotel. We pointed to the approximate location on the map. He showed us to a bus nearby, and indicated that it was leaving shortly. We ran. Then we sat forever. We found that there was open WiFi access, so we pulled up the map on Mandy’s phone (of course, the device with the least amount of battery remaining) and downloaded them for offline use. We tried to figure out which stop would bring us closest to the hotel. We determined Hindenburgplatz was probably as close as we could get, but it was still hard to tell exactly how far the walk would be. With Mandy’s phone down to about 10% battery life remaining, we tried to be as frugal with the screen time as we could. But we had to keep referring to the maps to try and get our bearings in this pitch dark, foreign land with no one around to help out. It was great! We found ourselves soon walking down deserted alleys packed with tiny shops, all closed up for the night. Right about the time we were ready to admit we were completely lost, Mandy noted, “Hey, we’re on Sophienstrase. We must be close.” The hotel name had Sophia in it; can’t argue with that logic. We continued about 50m and she saw the sign. We made it! Reception was supposed to close at midnight, but they must have waited up for us because the door was still open when we finally arrived at 12:20am. We checked in quickly, found our room, dropped our bags and crashed. Exhausted.
"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."
- Bilbo Baggins
We're just an adventure-loving couple with a puppy looking to share our stories with the world.