Timeline: August 25h – 28th
With our appointment at the VW factory for noon, we could take our time in camp the next morning and relax a bit. Camping Mockritz bakes bread and croissants each morning and it was a delight to walk over to the reception/market and pick up warm carbohydrates to go along with our yoghurt and coffee.
We drove into Dresden to the VW plant, figuring they’d have parking and sure enough it was convenient and free. The factory is located right in the middle of Dresden and to gain the approval from the city VW had to design it to have a very low environmental impact. Thus parts are delivered to a logistics plant on the edge of town, and then transported just in time to the plant by “cargo trams” (instead of trucks, to keep traffic congestion down).
VW hand builds its top of the line Phaeton (and soon Bentley’s) here and each car is hand assembled. Thus, this is their showpiece plant; I’m sure the Golf factories aren’t quite as nice. Fully 70% of Phaeton production is shipped to China; VW introduced this car in America some years ago, but its price point at close to $90,000 was too much for folks to consider buying a hand built luxury car with the VW logo.
We arrived about 45 minutes early anticipating being able to eat in the nice café attached to the plant, a notion that became even more viable when we paid for the tour and received discount vouchers to eat there. We sat down, perused the menu and asked the waitress if we could order and eat in time to make the noontime tour. She assured us this would be the case and so we would enjoy a Currywurst with special VW sauce and some of the best French fries of the trip; hot, crisp and cooked throughout each fry.
At the appointed hour we began the 90 minute tour, the first part of which had to do with the history of VW, its marriage with Audi, and the subsequent absorption of many other brands under the corporate Volkswagen Group tree (Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Porsche, SEAT, Škoda and Volkswagen). The factory is a fascinating example of taking concern for the worker into account, a by-product of Germany’s strong labor unions. The slow moving assembly line sits on a cushioned wood floor to cut down on worker fatigue and multiple sleds, hoists, and other apparatus assist workers in moving various parts of the car (dashboards, seats, etc.) into position for Installation.
Thoroughly satisfied with our tour experience, we drove back to camp for a free afternoon to take care of a number of housekeeping tasks and relax a bit. I have to take an amazing amount of non-prescription supplements, the burden of aging (fish oil tablets, Cholestoff and a host of other pills to numerous to mention), and needed table space and time to parse out multiple days of doses from the stock I carried in a storage box.
As I went to pull the spiral binder I carry in the computer day-pack to provide a clean surface to sort the pills, I discovered to my horror that the binder, a notebook containing my log of our bike miles, and the plastic folder holding photocopies of our passports, credit cards, spare receipts, and importantly, the pink slip for the Highlander (required to ship the car home) were missing. Some moments of panic ensued as we furiously searched high and low for the objects.
I recalled that the morning we left Berlin, I noticed that the same pack was outside when I got up in the morning; perhaps one of us left it out? Yet the computer was still in the bag. Knowing that for the time being I couldn’t do much, I resolved to complete my pill-sorting task aided by a fine bottle of Riesling, purchased to remind us of our good friend Judith Rowles, who dearly loves this type of wine.
So, the pills got sorted, the wine was consumed, dinner was accomplished, more wine may have been consumed, an internet search informed us as to our best options for replacing the pink slip, and a movie got watched. It would subsequently take a trip to the American Embassy in Prague to begin to solve the pink slip problem and an email to the shipping agents advised us, to our relief, that the original wasn’t rally necessary (I have a scanned copy I can print). Regular monitoring of bank and credit card accounts would confirm that no fraudulent activity was occurring due to the loss of the papers and for the time being, it would appear we survived what could have been a big loss.
Although concerned about the loss of the paperwork, the magical powers of Judith’s Riesling (now we know why she drinks it) allowed for a good night’s sleep. We’d thought about riding our bikes the next day, feeling as though we’d seen what we wanted in Dresden, but based on a glowing description of a day trip in the Book of Steves decided to head out to the Saxon Switzerland National Park (Sächsische Schweiz), about twenty miles southeast of Dresden.
The Elbe River cuts a scenic swath through beech forests and steep cliffs here and a 45 minute walk from the parking lot (Four Euro fee) takes you gradually uphill, past a snack shop, then a hotel, and then a restaurant (Germans, heck all Europeans, love to eat) to the Bastei Bridge and its stunning views of gray sandstone cliff sides that rise several hundred feet above the forest and Elbe River below.
The stone from this area was used to build Dresden’s finest buildings as well as Berlin’s famous Brandenburg Gate. The multiple-arch bridge, built in 1851 specifically for Romantic Age tourists, leads to short trails that provide views on the Elbe below, much like we experienced in Dordogne from the castle overlooking that river. We cheerfully coughed up the 1.5 Euro apiece to tour catwalks through the remains of the Felsenberg Neurathen, a 13th-century Saxon fort perched precariously on the outcroppings that populate the mountaintop.
It was a fascinating experience, following the tour path, trying to imagine what life would have been like high a top this mountain setting. We finished up our tour and began our walk back down to car. We stopped first at the food kiosk to drink a beer and eat the apple we’d brought (we’d picnicked on sandwiches we made with the fresh rolls we could buy each morning in camp. Love that Curry Mango sauce to spice them up). The walk down was nice and long and we remarked how much we missed this type of activity, and how a trip of our length can’t be composed of just sightseeing.
We returned to camp and as planned had our dinner in the camp restaurant, Mockritzer Pan. Prices were reasonable and we both had full meals, nicely prepared and filling. Including three beers the total came to a little under 27 Euros. My only complaint was that it wasn’t crowded and the service was horrifically slow. It took us well over 90 minutes to get our beers and our meals. A small complaint as it was a lovely evening and we sat outside, enjoying very nice weather, a change from our stay in Berlin.
We’d leave for Prague the next day, returning there for the first time since our visit in 1992. How much would the city have changed? How different would our experience in the Czech Republic be from our time in other parts of Europe? We’d have to use Czech crowns, switching over from Euros, a pain when you’ve gotten used to just the one currency. Time would tell how well we’d adjust, and just how much Czech Pilsner we’d drink.
Transparent Factory: http://www.glaesernemanufaktur.de/
VW Phaeton: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkswagen_Phaeton
Volkswagen Group: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkswagen_Group
Sächsische Schweiz: http://www.saechsische-schweiz.de/elbsandsteingebirge.html
Bastei Bridge: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bastei
Felsenberg Neurathen: http://www.lohmen-sachsen.de/tourismus/felsenburg-neurathen.html