Leoneda Inge – Berlin to Brussels 2014

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Not Your Old VW Beetle

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Our first full day in Dresden was “transparent,” clear, concise, clean, odorless and an example of the future of manufacturing. I have visited a Ford manufacturing plant in my career, but this is my first foreign automobile plant visit (in a foreign country). The VW “Transparent Factory” in Dresden is so popular it has become a busy tourist attraction (there’s even a 5 Star restaurant). There’s even lighting and perfect acoustics so the symphony can perform! From the street, you see this round, glass tower. The closer you walk to the tower, you notice shiny, new cars stacked high like in a BIG candy vending machine!

VW "Phaeton" Offices and Manufacturing plant in Dresden.  Look Closer!

VW “Phaeton” Offices and Manufacturing plant in Dresden. Look Closer!

Christian Haacke was our guide. I can tell he loves his job! He says everything is the way it is to “draw the customer into the building.” Many Phaeton customers personally come to the plant (not to a dealership) to personally choose colors, leather, etc. Haacke says they arrange sightseeing trips for their customers and in 3-4 days, their car is ready to drive off the shiney showroom floor!

This is the only place in the world where the luxury VW Phaeton is made. A “cheap” Phaeton sill cost about 70,000 Euros – that’s $95,000! The manufacturing plant and offices are open, with transparent offices and a slow-revolving manufacturing floor. The workers wear all white and I even saw some of them wearing white gloves. My RIAS group of American journalists watched in awe (we also had to wear white jackets) as the “wedding” took place – when the engine snuggly fit into the shell of the Phaeton.

The VW "XL1" outside the Phaeton Plant!  No rear-view mirrors!

The VW “XL1” outside the Phaeton Plant! No rear-view mirrors!

Haacke says 70% of VW’s Phaetons are sold to customers in China, followed by Russia and then the UK. They tried the US back in the mid-2000s but Haacke says the economic timing was wrong. In this clean, clear plant, workers build 21 Phaetons a day and 3 Bentleys a day – yes Bentleys! We were not allowed to take pictures inside the “transparent plant,” but we could take a picture of the cool, new VW hybrid on display out front. The two-seater “XL1” is so new it doesn’t have rearview mirrors, just cameras. And you can see how the wings open up. VW only plans to sell about 250 of these limited edition cars.

Me with the XL1 - real small.  I'd rather be in a "Phaeton" - but VW wouldn't allow photos.  The "lipstick" mirror in the "Phaeton" also has magnify-mode, for tweezing!

Me with the XL1 – real small. I’d rather be in a “Phaeton” – but VW wouldn’t allow photos. The “lipstick” mirror in the “Phaeton” also has magnify-mode, for tweezing!

The weather was beautiful as we walked from the VW plant back to the city center. We had a candid conversation with Dr. Ralf Lunau, Deputy Mayor of Cultural Affairs. Again, I was reminded of how similar the Dresden area is to Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill. The “Triangle” is often referred to as the Silicon Valley of the South because of all the technology-based and innovative companies that call it home. With an unemployment rate of around 5%, Dresden often calls itself “The Silicon Saxony.” Remember, Saxony is the state where Dresden is located. And like the Triangle, Dresden is growing (unlike some other parts of Germany). Its IT and semi-conductor sector is tops in Europe, I hear, with a well-trained workforce. The population is up to 525,000. Yeah, you would think it had a “Sister City” in the Triangle. Nope – its Sister City is in Columbus, Ohio – in a state that seems to compete with North Carolina for everything!

Felt like I was in the movie "The Wiz" when I saw these lions at the "Free State of Saxony" government offices!

Felt like I was in the movie “The Wiz” when I saw these lions at the “Free State of Saxony” government offices!

To wrap up the day, we spent time with the big guy – The Chancellery Minister of the “Free State of Saxony” – Dr. Johannes Beerman. Our day was long by the time we made it to this historic building with gothic lions and other sculptures in the foyer. Even the front door looked like something out of “The Game of Thrones!” I can’t tell you everything Beerman said because my fellow journalists and I were paying a lot of attention to the spread on the large conference room table! Cakes, fruit, coffee, tea, water, fine juices, Coca Cola (for me, of course), and more cake!

It looked like a table set by "Willy Wonka" when we arrived at our meeting at "Free State of Saxony!"

It looked like a table set by “Willy Wonka” when we arrived at our meeting at “Free State of Saxony!”

The people of Dresden and “The Free State of Saxony” are especially proud of how they’ve progressed since the fall of the Berlin Wall. BMW, Porsche and VW make vehicles here, the place where European porcelain was created and the only place where semi-conductors are built in Europe. The economy is bustling with jobs, culture and tourists like us.


Author: leonedainge2014

Leoneda Inge is the Changing Economy Reporter at North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC. She has spent the past decade tracking job loss, gain and innovation in major North Carolina industries including Food and Agriculture, Tobacco, Furniture, Textiles and Biotechnology. Leoneda is honored to be the recipient of a prestigious Alfred I. duPont Award from Columbia University. She and a team of journalists won for the series – North Carolina Voices: Understanding Poverty. Leoneda has won several other first place awards – including three Gracie Awards from the Foundation of American Women in Radio and Television, four Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and numerous Associated Press (AP) Awards. Leoneda is a graduate of Florida A&M University (B.S) and Columbia University (M.S) where she was a Knight-Bagehot Journalism Fellow in Business and Economics. Leoneda has also been a Journalism fellow at the University of Michigan, The Institute for Justice and Journalism and the Foreign Press Center (Japan). Leoneda enjoys covering stories that link North Carolina to the global economy. Her work has been recently heard on National Public Radio (NPR) and WBUR’s “Here & Now.” When Leoneda is not reporting, she loves training future Journalists. She has served as a mentor for NPR’s Next Generation Radio project, and taught at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee and Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, NC.

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