1 of 4) Munich, Germany

Country Manufacturing Value-Added (% of GDP): 23% (World Bank) 

Munich is both a cultural hub, as the center of Oktoberfest, and the economic engine/high-tech center of Germany.  Not only does Germany have the strongest economy in the EU, but Bavaria, the Southern region of Germany of which Munich is the largest city, has the strongest economy in the country.  The city boasts an advanced public transportation network and world-renowned infrastructure, which can be partially credited for its  supply chain capabilities.  President Eisenhower observed the German transportation infrastructure as a General in World War II and used it as an inspiration for the Interstate Highway System program of the 1950’s.  Students had the opportunity to learn about the efficiency of the U-Bahn (subway) as a method of getting from place to place.  We used the U-Bahn dozens of times to help us get around, and many of the students became proficient in navigating it.  We also utilized trams, the S-Bahn (subway to the suburbs), buses, and other common modes of European public transportation (seen below).


1) Multinational Automobile and Supply Chain tours:

The City of Munich (2016) website states that “In terms of turnover and the number of employees, automotive engineering is the single most important branch of industry in the Munich Metropolitan Region”.  Germany is the leading country in the EU in automobile production and has been called the world’s automotive innovation hub (Germany Trade & Invest, 2018).  Bavaria claims 180 Tier 1-4 automobile suppliers, including factories for Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Opel (GM), Audi, and BMW.  Bavaria boasts “modern solutions for sophisticated requirements in supply chain management of automobile manufacturers” (Invest in Bavaria, 2016).  The City of Munich (2018) states that “400 automotive companies employ around 128,500 people” in the city and “The entire value chain is based in this region, including everything from research and development through production to the supply industry.”  In fact, Munich University offers a popular bachelor’s degree in Automotive Engineering and Management.

BMW (Bavarian Motor Works) is a German automaker known for quality vehicles and value-added components.  They have embraced their responsibility to the environment through green manufacturing, which reduces landfill requirements, paired with a water conservation initiative, saving 9.5M gallons of water each year across their global facilities.  One of the many quality initiatives in place at BMW is the usage of methane gas to power factory turbines, which supplies 50% of total energy demands for the company.  BMW was one of the first organizations in the automotive industry to earn the prestigious ISO: 14001 certification (BMW Manufacturing Co., 2018).  BMW’s global supply chain includes 30 industrial sites in 14 countries on 4 continents and includes 13,000 suppliers in 70 countries (BMW Group, 2018).

We toured the BMW factory and observed the behind-the-scenes production of this world-renowned automobile from press works to assembly.  The museum/showroom displayed many innovative products.


Students were not allowed to take pictures inside the factory, although they learned quite a bit about their manufacturing process.  The tour of this state-of-the-art facility gave them a close-up view of the Press Shop, Body Shop, Paint Shop, Engine Shop,  Production of Interior Equipment and Seats, and Assembly.  The factory produces 222,000 vehicles per year (of 2,367,600 vehicles worldwide, or the 5th-most  productive of their 14 worldwide plants) and encompasses 400,000 square meters, making it the second-largest BMW factory behind the factory located in South Carolina.  Unlike in America, rail is the most common mode of transport of vehicles from the factory to vendors.

Students had the opportunity to learn about and observe the following:

  • 16 variations of vehicle body frames for the 2019 product lines
  • differences in vehicles made for the Japanese, UK, and American markets
  • the automation of 850 robots during the welding process
  • the paint shop (environmentally friendly water-based paints) including BMW’s 16 official standardized colors
  • production of their 3, 4, 8, and 12 cylinder engines (their 2,000-employee team produces 3,300 4 cylinder engines/day)
  • air jet cleaning for a dust-free surface before painting
  • automated Excel table recording production in real time (called automatiktabelle)
  • brake inspection process after assembly

The factory is currently exploring a new production digitization process including 3D-printing capabilities and an innovative data matrix code to trace individual parts for defects.


2) Cultural Excursions and Immersions:

We enjoyed numerous cultural activities, including seeing the Royal Palace.  First constructed in 1385, the Royal Palace is the largest city palace in Germany and was formerly home to Bavarian monarchs.  It was reconstructed after being damaged during World War II, when 88% of the city center buildings in Munich were destroyed (below, right).  The 15th-century Cathedral of our Lady, or Frauenkirche, miraculously survived the bombs (below, left).


We also had the privilege of touring the U.S. Consulate General in Munich, Germany.  There to greet us was Generalkonsulin Jennifer Gavito.  Before serving in this position, she worked as Chief of the Political Section at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, where she was acting senior political advisor of Middle East peace negotiations and U.S. policy regarding Jerusalem, Gaza City and the West Bank of Israel (De.usembassy.gov).  We also had a rich conversation with four US diplomats who gave us insight into their function and answered questions.  Many of us have never been prouder to be Americans (no pictures allowed in the facility).

Some German cities established commissions to determine how to rebuild after World War II.  While some such as Frankfurt chose to rebuild in a modern fashion, Munich chose to study old photographs and rebuild its old town area to replicate the original design, which includes the Royal Palace and other relics of the city’s historic center.  The Munich Town Hall in Marienplatz, where the mayor and city council conduct business, suffered damage during Allied air raids in 1944, but was later rebuilt in the same style.  We had a chance to listen to the Glockenspiel, which plays twice every day.

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Students in front of the New Town Hall (Containing the Glockenspiel)

In February 2017, the NATO Security Conference was held in Munich at the magnificent Bayerischer Hof hotel in Munich (below).  This meeting was especially important because Vice President Mike Pence delivered an important speech there discussing the current administration’s policy on NATO, seemingly on the heels of comments by Donald Trump proclaiming NATO to be “obsolete” during the campaign season.  Conversations with locals and other Europeans often resulted in questions about the US President.  Coincidentally, one of our two Rotary club international meetings was in the restaurant in the basement of this hotel.

Bayerischer Hof hotel


The Bayerischer Hof hotel in Munich was also host to frequent guest Michael Jackson, who could often be seen walking around the nearby shopping area somewhat undisturbed.  In tribute to his love of Munich, the locals dedicated a monument outside the hotel to his memory.  One stipulation of the monument was that it has to be immaculately kept-up, and the flowers need to be in bloom.

Memorial to frequent Munich visitor Michael Jackson


Bavarian cuisine, inspired by the Bavarian dukes of the Wittelsbach family, was originally intended to be for the refined and only for royalty.  It includes bratwursts, German potatoes, sauerkraut, warm red cabbage salad, veal, and German pretzels.  These foods became more widely available over time as common people started making more money.  Today, these foods are especially popular during the Biergarten season, which starts in May and lasts until Oktoberfest.  Of course, trying new foods is an important part of learning about new cultures.  Students had a perfect opportunity to try German cuisine at two local Rotary clubs (seen in pictures below), which included the traditional exchanging of club flags.  We were especially lucky that during one of these meetings, the program (guest speaker) included the 2017-2018 Bavarian Beer Queen.


The popular image of Germany (bratwurst, lederhosen, pretzels, etc.) comes from Oktoberfest, which originated in 1810, when King Ludwig I celebrated his wedding by inviting Munich’s citizens to eat and drink with the Royal Family.  In this same spirit, we had dinner at the Hofbrauhaus (below), founded in 1589 by the Duke of Bavaria.  It formerly served as the royal brewery in the kingdom of Bavaria, but the general public began to be admitted in 1828.  Today it is owned by the state of Bavaria.



Dachau Concentration camp was the first concentration camp in Germany and was a model for subsequent German camps as well as Joseph Stalin’s gulags.  It was initially constructed to hold German and Austrian political dissidents after the prisons became overcrowded in March 1933, and many prominent politicians were sent there.  It eventually took in Soviet prisoners and also served as a concentration camp for more than 10,000 Jewish men.  More than 4,000 political dissidents were killed there, which was against the Geneva Convention.  After it was liberated by the Americans, it was used by the Allies to hold SS guards awaiting trial and as a military base until 1960.  Its official records totaled 206,206 prisoners.  Below is a photo to the gate to the Dachau Concentration Camp with its inscription, “Work Sets You Free” (below, left) and students in front of the restored prisoner accommodations (below, right).


A poignant moment at Dachau was chronicled in a student’s blog post (below):

“Overwhelming. Being raised within a Jewish community, the Holocaust is something that is taught, as it is understood that the stories should never be forgotten. Pictures in a museum and words in a textbook are just that- pictures and words. When we ventured out to Dachau, my only expectations were the ones from the many accounts that I’ve been fortunate enough to learn about. I kept my composure fairly well, until we approached the ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ gate. As cliché as it sounds, the next two hours were an ’emotional rollercoaster’.  Walking along the same paths, and glaring at the same architecture that the prisoners did, was horrifying, but also refreshing in a strange way. It is important to remember those who perished, but knowing that I, an American Jew with Eastern European roots, was able to walk their grounds, made me realize that I am evidence of Nazis failing in their overarching plans. It was ultimately an extremely introspective experience, and I am glad I was able to finally see one of the places I have learned so much about over the years.”   

Jewish-American student Adam Gross


Munich is home to many multinational industrial operations, and more than 90,000 students attend its Universities.  The Munich University of Applied Science, the second-largest Applied Science college in the country, is a strategic partner of Purdue University, with transfer agreements and a history of collaborations.  We had the opportunity to take a tour of their campus and learn about how their system of education works.  Public universities are free for all citizens in Germany.  We found that their bookstore also serves as a cafe, where students can use textbooks and return them thereafter.  We also learned that students drink beer freely and often in class.  While on the campus, we had the opportunity to see their 3-D cave and lean manufacturing lab (below).


3) History of Capitalism/Trade:

Soaring over the city is the 290-meter high Olympic Tower at Olympia Park.  This area witnessed much economic development after 1966, when the International Olympic Committee awarded the 1972 games to Munich.  Olympia Park became a case study in how sporting events can be a catalyst for both urban development and private economic development.  The announcement of the 1972 Olympics in Munich set a precedent that the Super Bowl committee adheres to today, as plans are solicited for gentrification and other urban economic development in advance and economic development initiatives are intended to coincide with the event.  The ’72 Games included the infamous Munich massacre, in which eleven Israeli Olympians were taken hostage and killed.  Since Olympia Park is next door to the BMW factory, students had the opportunity to explore.  Below are photographs of student at the top of Olympic Tower (right) and students inside Olympic are photographs Stadium (left).


In 2012 Munich and its region was ranked second place in the European Regional Economic Growth Index (E-REGI) among nearly 326 competitors from 33 countries in Europe (Colliers International, 2016).  Munich has the highest per capita income in Germany, and many attribute this affluence to the US influence in its economy during the Cold War.  The German Patent and Trademark Office established its headquarters in Munich in 1959 and has spawned many successful multinational organizations originating in Munich.

As usual, some of the most noteworthy experiences are unplanned.  Students are encouraged to explore during their free time so that they can enjoy alternative aspects of the city.  Below are photos taken by one student (Thomas) who took a trip to the Residence museum (left) and the Toy museum (right).


Of course, soccer is the most popular sport in Europe.  FC Bayern Munchen, the local team, was ranked #4 on the Forbes list of most valuable soccer organizations, valued at $2.7 Billion.  This value was enhanced after a 10-year deal with German-based Adidas as the official athletic apparel of the company.  One subway exit we sought out was near the massive stadium.  One student (Rubin) learned how to get around the U-bahn fairly quickly and on the first night took a trip to take a look at the stadium’s famous night lighting (see below).  He stocked up on some apparel on another day.  It seems like every year, a student adopts FC Bayern Munchen as their new favorite team.


Of course, during the available free-time, student led excursions are encouraged.  One student (Bill) led a contingency to the Munich Philharmonic (below).



On to Prague…