1 of 4) Munich, Germany

Country Manufacturing Value-Added (% of GDP): 21% (World Bank, 2019) 

Germany has the strongest economy in the EU, and the southern region of Bavaria has the strongest economy in Germany.  Munich, the largest city in Bavaria, is both a cultural hub, as the center of Oktoberfest, and the economic engine/high-tech center of Germany.  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, trams, and other common modes of European public transportation (seen below).


During our trip to Dachau, we were reminded of the American influence on German history when we passed the stop “JF Kennedy Platz”, as seen on the tram screen below.



1) Multinational Automobile and Supply Chain tours:

The City of Munich (2019) 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 leads the EU in automobile production and has been called the world’s automotive innovation hub (Germany Trade & Invest, 2018). Bavaria boasts “modern solutions for sophisticated requirements in supply chain management of automobile manufacturers” (Invest in Bavaria, 2016) and claims 180 Tier 1-4 automobile suppliers, including factories for Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Opel (GM), Audi, and BMW.  The City of Munich (2019) 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.”  BMW, Mercedes, Audi, and Porsche that alone account for 80 percent of global sales of luxury vehicles. And with 835,000 workers, the auto industry is Germany’s biggest employer, responsible for a fifth of the country’s exports (Bloomberg, 2019).  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 (BM W 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).

The group 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.

The group in Olympic Village (home of the ’72 games) in front of the BMW factory, just before our tour


Although they were given quite a bit of information about the manufacturing process, students were not allowed to take pictures inside the factory.  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 of BMW’s 2,367,600 vehicles worldwide per year (900 cars per day in 2019), making it 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.  By 2021, the plan is for the factory to be the first in the world to assemble internal combustion, hybrid, and full electric vehicles all in the same facility.


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 rebuilt after being damaged during World War II, when 88% of the city center buildings in Munich were destroyed.  The 15th-century Cathedral of our Lady, or Frauenkirche (below, upper left), miraculously survived the bombs.

Students in front of the Statue of Maximilian II, Ruler of Bavaria.


Some German cities established commissions to determine how to rebuild after World War II.  While some such as Hamburg 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 partook in the famous Glockenspiel (below, right), which plays twice every day.



The Bayerischer Hof hotel in Munich was 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 commoners 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.  Below, our tour guide points to German pork knuckle (Schweinshaxe) in the window of a restaurant (below, left), which a student (Zach) later tried out (below, right).


Like experiences in any new culture, food is new, fun, and different but part of discovery, from appetizers like our “bavarian dinner rolls” (below, left) to dessert like Mutzenmandeln (below, right).


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 Hofbräuhaus (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” and students in front of the restored prisoner accommodations.


Prisoner Sleeping Quarters


The trip to Dachau allowed the group an opportunity to visit the northern suburbs of Munich, whereas the S-Bahn (suburban subway) was utilized as a method of transportation.  Later that day, the group used a different S-Bahn line to visit a quintessential German restaurant in the southern suburbs of Munich (below).



Our visit coincided with a massive public relations campaign for an election that was to take place a few days after our departure.  Most all of the election propaganda we saw had the same message- “Macht Europa Stark!” (Make Europe Strong!) and was promoting the EU.  This message was displayed on many different types of promotional materials all around the city.  Thanks to Mark who took the picture below.



A fun game that students enjoy is the “try to find a pothole or bumper sticker” game while traveling on the German autobahn.  Both are rare and are quintessentially American phenomenons.  Students also noticed that there is no speed limit for cars, and trucks are strictly prohibited from driving over a certain kph on the autobahn.  Many commented that this precision is much unlike the interstates in Indiana.

Typical scene from the German Autobahn


Like all Study Abroad’s, some of the best memories are unstructured adventures that occur away of official outings.  As such, student side-trips and exploring are explicitly encouraged.

Students going to get a better look at the Olympic Tower (left) in Olympic Village


Some students explore more than others.  Guy Myers of Purdue Polytechnic Vincennes took advantage of his free time to the fullest extent.  He developed a concept that the students coined ‘tower hopping’, whereby he led a contingency that climbed an array of available towers in Marienplatz one evening.  One night he visited the FC Bayern Munich arena, and another morning he took a trip with others to the Nymphenburg Palace (below).


On to Prague…