Munich is right into the Christmas spirit, except that the big event here is Advent – the period leading up to Christmas. As in most other European countries, the big event for families is Christmas Eve – that’s when St Nicholas arrives and all the celebrations of the season take place.
Yesterday, we spent most of our day exploring the old town of Munich. The central square outside the Town Hall is known as Marienplatz. It, and the surrounding streets, are a pedestrian only area. A little later than in neighbouring Austria, the Christmas (Advent) market only started operating here on the day before we arrived. Many of the stalls sell much the same sort of produce, although there seems to be a greater number of stalls selling food and drink here. I guess that it goes with being in a business city where people are most likely to want to buy food during the day.
I had forgotten to bring a scarf and the weather has now become much cooler. I was getting quitter cold around me neck, even though I have been wearing a skivvy, jumper sand warm coat. I found a lovely mens wear store that was clearly not the cheapest store in town and looked for where I could buy one. I decided that since I would probably wear a scarf for only the next week or so, that I didn’t need any of the 150 Euro ones, and in the end found a synthetic fabric scarf that would do the job nicely for about 30 Euro. Needless to say, at shops further up the road, I could have bought similar scarves for about 1/3 of the price, but they didn’t come with a very colourful bag and the opportunity to use my American Express Card.
In one area of the old town, we found the Viktualmarkt, which as the name implies, sells food, fish, meat and similar goods. Some of the florist shops sold Advent Wreaths and bits and pieces of trees / foliage / pine cones etc for making one’s own seasonal decorations. Jill found some fine decorative florists wire that she had seen on a number of little decorative vases in our hotel with the intention of making something similar at home.
Our hotel at the Sofitel is a very nice place to stay. Jill doesn’t like all of the modern design features, but I think that there are three wonderful things about this place . First, it has lovely individual duvets on the bed that you can really snuggle under and feel very comfortable. Second, our bathroom has an 8 inch shower rose set into the ceiling. It is so luxurious to stand under it for a long time with gallons of hot water falling onto your body. So much for all the water saving shower roses that shoot into my navel in other hotels in which I have stayed. Thirdly, I never stayed in a hotel before with such a consistent group of charming and beautiful young women in customer service roles. They work in the restaurants, at reception and seemingly every other customer service function in the hotel. This Sofitel obviously does its recruitment at the Miss Germany event each year!
When we woke up this morning and looked out the window we could see that it had become cold enough to snow. In fact we had light snow falling for most of the day. We spent all day at BMW World which is situated just across the road from the 1972 Olympic area and about 5 mms north of Munich. It was a good place to spend an otherwise cold and wet day.
We started by looking around the very elegant and enormous show room. This displayed all the various models in the BMW range along with Mini’s and Roll Royce which BMW also own. It was very easy to talk to the staff about the cars. One model which caught my eye was a hybrid vehicle that is not yet sold in Australia and we understand that an electric car will be released next year. You can’t actually buy a car here – that has to be done at a dealer. However, you can collect your car from here and be feted with a factory tour, lunch in a reserved dining room and personal service from one of the dedicated delivery experts.
After a long look around, we then wandered over to the museum which is in another building just across the road. This has a fascinating display of cars, motor bikes and aircraft engines dating from the 1930’s to current models. It is a beautifully designed building on many levels and it is easy to take stunning photos.
We had lunch in the cafe at the museum and then went back to the main building to join a factory tour that we had pre-booked. I have never seen a car manufacturing plant before and I was fascinated by the level of automation and IT integration that controlled the manufacturing process. We were not able to see the manufacturing line as the visitor facilities there were undergoing renovations, but we visited the press shop, engine plant, painting area and final fit-out areas where cars are driven straight out of the factory and on to a train for delivery to various dealerships. This plant is getting constrained by local housing developments and now only produces 3 series vehicles. My 5 series car is made at another plant at Dinklesbuhl. There are over 25 other BMW manufacturing plants around Europe, Britain, India, USA and China.
We were not able to take photos in the plant, however it was just fascinating to watch some of the robots going about their work of welding, painting and assembling vehicle shells. In the paint shop, five coats of paint are applied to each car by up to 12 individual robots. The way in which they moved around the car and sprayed ionised paint onto the body reminded me of a dance of machines. They started each car with their nozzles pointed to the floor and then in a series of jerky movements they opened each of the doors. sprayed the interior in a number of sweeping gestures, lifted the boot and painted inside and then closed all the doors again so that the car was able to move to the next step down the production line.
We finished our visit with a beer at the cafe and a long discussion with a couple of English gentlemen who were keen car buffs and who also drove BMWs. We were amazed at how time had flown. As we got into a taxi to head back to our hotel, we realised that we had spent nearly six hours here at BMW headquarters.