September 2015


Visiting Wolfsburg (VW): Germany’s Detroit (but not quite there yet)

VW Kraftwerk

This weekend, for reasons I won’t really disclose here, a friend and I agreed to meet in Wolfsburg – a city just over an hour west of Berlin.

For most people it is notable because it is home to Volkswagon.

VW Bus

I’ll admit that when we agreed to meet in Wolfsburg, I had no idea what we would do there in our free time. There is only one well known attraction in the city, Autostadt (in English, Auto City), which is a mecca for all things Volkswagon. A quick perusal of the Autostadt website left me uncertain what one does there – but given that we had a day to hang out, it was what we decided to do.

Adam at Autostadt

When we planned this trip, we thought that we’d be visiting a dull little city in the heart of Germany.

Little did we know that it would be the epicenter of German news while were there after it was discovered that VW had manipulated, through software engineering, the emissions of its famous, environmentally friendly, diesel engines.

Which also excited me, because I was excited to see exactly how much VW talks about its diesel engines and its environmental record at Autostadt.

The answer is mixed.

There’s a whole floor of one of the buildings that is dedicated to the environment – where I learned that I am a climate asshole.  (And, to be honest, I am: but if you cut out my air travel, my footprint would be tiny.)  But, now that I think about it, on the green floor I cannot remember VW talking about exactly what it does for the environment, it’s more the bang the tourists over the head with reminders that they ought to be environmentally responsible.

Then, in the VW pavilion, there was a section dedicated to their BlueMotion efforts to improve diesel engine efficiency.  But, uh, they didn’t really note that the engines ran on diesel. You had to read the labels on the cars to find that out.

VW Diesel Powered Cars...

Beyond that, the best piece of Autostadt was the building housing old cars – I fell in love with an old Bugatti that looks awesome, plus a number of other cars that were either beautiful or, if from the 1970s, hideous beyond all words.


I suspect that, at least for me, Autostadt is a one and done kind of destination. The city, itself, is pretty ugly. At one point I asked my friend whether or not Wolfsburg had been in East or in West Germany – the architecture in the city center would be right at home among the plattenbau apartments that scar East German cities.

And tucked into one of those really ugly buildings – a division of Volkswagon that had an especially bad week.

VW Governance

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