Leoneda Inge – Berlin to Brussels 2014

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Not Your Old VW Beetle

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.

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Art and Anticipation

Sunday we were off to see another part of Germany! The real test was packing, a real test for when it’s time to head back to the states. I left the larger portion of my rolling backpack at the Berlin hotel, delaying the inevitable. No money to pay for heavy luggage – something WILL go! That ugly grey suit I brought on this trip, lotions and powder – something will have to remain behind!

Mentor Hildegard Boucsein and Texas A&M University grad student Susan Stallings travel with RIAS to Dresden!

Mentor Hildegard Boucsein and Texas A&M University grad student Susan Stallings travel with RIAS to Dresden!


The good thing, the weight of our luggage doesn’t matter yet. We traveled in comfort, by bus, to the city of Dresden. Dresden sits in the “Free State of Saxony.” It is sort of a college-town, with manufacturing, a lot of history and a lot of ART! Kinda reminds me of the Triangle! The first piece of art that greeted this group of American journalists was just outside our hotel, representing the area’s famous Boys Choir.

Art celebrating St. Thomas Boys Choir, in front of our hotel in Dresden.

Art celebrating St. Thomas Boys Choir, in front of our hotel in Dresden.


The City of Dresden has undergone a major transformation since wartime and “wall” time. Rainer Hasters, our tour guide and Executive Director of the RIAS Berlin Kommission, our trip sponsor, told us, it used to be hard to get Western media signals in Dresden. It was called “Valley of the Uninformed.” Today, Dresden has rebuilt its population and its famous infrastructure. Carola Bernholz walked us around the city. One of the most well-known and tallest landmarks is the “Church of Our Lady.” For many years, there was only a pile of rubble at this site, leftovers from the bombing and fire during the war. Bernholz says the community treated the rubble as a “monument against war.” Dresden would eventually come together, raise money, mark every stone/brick, and rebuild the church (with the help of computer technology). It was completed in 2005.

The rebuilding of Church of Our Lady was finished in 2005.

The rebuilding of Church of Our Lady was finished in 2005.


Dresden rebuilt many old, ruined buildings. It is common to see an outer baroque facade and a modern facility on the inside.

There are many old churches in Dresden and there are also probably a lot of Fallen Angels!

There are many old churches in Dresden and there are also probably a lot of Fallen Angels!


We visited the Academy of Fine Arts, a high school and a college. I loved the room full of stone sculptures – some antiques, some reproductions. Bernholtz said, in the 19th century, it was as popular to have a “reproduction” as the real thing.

A room full of sculptures at the Academy of Fine Arts.  Which ones are originals?

A room full of sculptures at the Academy of Fine Arts. Which ones are originals?


One of the most well-known historic characters in Dresden time seems to be “Augustus II – ‘The Strong.” There’s a large and long mural made of porcelain tiles – “Procession of Princes” – that includes “The Strong” – something to see. “Augustus the Strong” was infamous for many reasons. I remember three things – he became Catholic so he could become the President of Poland, he loved the women and had at least 300 children, and one of his mistresses made him claim her on paper! She was later put in jail, but she was also infamous, her face is on bottles of wine and more!

Yummy potato dessert - that's applesauce!

Yummy potato dessert – that’s applesauce!


Our long walk ended with dinner at a well-known spot – “Sophienkeller.” The staff dressed in period costumes, serving a lot of beer, meat and potatoes! My dessert was even some sort of fried potato dumpling, with sugar on top, and apple sauce and cream on the side!

Prof. Georg Milbradt, former Minister President of the German State Saxony, was our guest – along with his wife. He told us about the years when Saxony, a main industrial center, was cut off from its Western market (across Europe and overseas). Today, he confirms the State is back, unemployment is low (about 7%), and exports are on the move. Milbradt says, the test is settling the banking problems of the south (like southern Germany and Italy, etc…) He says the “south” has to become more competitive to pay its debt.