The Autostadt puts the Volkswagen Group’s values into visual form. Guided tours of the exhibition give visitors an overview of what there is to experience – and that goes beyond hands-on mobility.
Always in flux and yet always a place of dreams for idealists: the Autostadt. “We originally expected to have one million visitors a year,” says Ana-Maria Hrib. It turned out to be two million. She is standing on the piazza of the Autostadt in Wolfsburg, and waiting. Tour guide Ana-Maria Hrib will be leading a group of visitors through the automotive theme world today. Slowly, the participants start trickling in.
When the group is complete, she points to the exosphere, a giant grid globe by the artist Ingo Günther. Diameter: twelve meters. “It stands for the internationalism of the Autostadt,” she says. Ana-Maria Hrib is eloquent and speaks with confidence. The group listens reverently. Then she points to the glass floor panels, under which is a whole field containing around 80 globes. Each one illuminates the global extent of a social, political or ecological issue, including automobile production.
Ana-Maria Hrib rarely talks about the car as such in her explanations. When she speaks, it is as though a cultural scientist were talking about the future of mobility. Firstly, she presents a few figures. The Autostadt was opened with the start of the Expo in the year 2000. Since then it has welcomed over 40 million visitors. Up to 500 new cars find owners here each day, with a total of almost three million so far.
Glass garages as car towers
The group makes its way to the landmarks of the Autostadt. All the cars in the two 48-meter-high car towers have been sold. The fully automated high-rise stacks have space for up to 800 new cars. Their all-glass façade offers a view of the interior. Traveling at two meters per second, an elevator conveys the cars up to their parking spaces. Each parking maneuver takes 44 seconds, earning the car towers a place in the 2014 Guinness Book of Records for the “world’s fastest automatic parking system.”
Suddenly, small vehicles approach. Amazement spreads through the group. “These are our autonomous transport robots,” says Ana-Maria Hrib, reassuring the visitors. “They take the new vehicles’ license plates to the customer center.” Then the little white boxes on six wheels glide elegantly past the group.
The world’s largest automobile delivery center is a fascinating phenomenon of car culture. It appears conspicuous and modest at the same time. “The Autostadt puts the Volkswagen Group’s values into visual form,” says Ana-Maria Hrib. A hands-on Group. Over a surface area of 28 hectares, the love of automobiles is celebrated in every conceivable form – from regularly changing exhibitions to readings, workshops and concerts.
Only a quarter of visitors come here to pick up their new Volkswagen. Over half of the guests want to look at exhibitions or visit one of the many events. Therefore, it’s not surprising that tour guide Ana-Maria Hrib explains: “The most frequently sold product by the Volkswagen Group is not the Golf but our own-brand currywurst.” The Tachometer restaurant in the customer center has sold more than six million of these sausages to date.
Brands as buildings
Audi, SEAT, Lamborghini, Porsche: In the midst of the park and lake landscape, almost all of Volkswagen Group’s brands are presented with their own pavilion. Their architecture is just as individual as the building interiors. The Audi pavilion has an aluminum façade. “It stands for the use of innovative materials in vehicle production,” tour guide Ana-Maria Hrib explains. Inside awaits the Audi e-tron1: the brand’s first fully electric SUV. Touching is explicitly permitted.
While the group inspects the interior, one visitor remains apart from the action, absorbed in her cube-shaped ice cream made of fruit purée. “In order to reduce sugar and fat, the ice cream in the Autostadt’s ice cream manufactory is snap-frozen with nitrogen,” Ana-Maria Hrib explains while passing the ice cream parlor. Something worth looking into.
The Lamborghini pavilion is designed as a black monolith. The impressive appearance is intended to symbolize the state-of-the-art technology and Italian handicraft of the legendary super sports car. The Porsche pavilion, made of stainless steel with a curved roof design and seamless building envelope, is based on the principles of lightweight construction.
Engineering skill and technical perfection in the ZeitHaus
One of the most impressive stations, the group will later conclude, is the ZeitHaus museum. Here, the group experiences around 130 years of automotive history, with over 260 vehicles of more than 60 brands. The exhibition is devoted not only to the history of the Volkswagen Group but to all those who have set new standards – from the Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic and the Tatra 87 to the Trabant or the Lamborghini 350 GT.
Those looking at the past on the podiums of the present see cars as loyal companions for bosses, workers, or students. With their different characters, the vehicles lend the museum a unique atmosphere. Cars as personality. This chassis represents reliability, that design expresses modesty. And this ambitious bridge technology presents a shining metaphor of economic upswing. The visitors are impressed. One of them stands motionless and in awe in front of the model T1 Volkswagen bus.
A particularly ingenious specimen of mobility, unsurprisingly, is the Benz patent motor vehicle. Around 133 years ago, Carl Benz wrote automobile history with the first overall concept consisting of chassis and engine. However, it was his wife who helped this invention to its breakthrough. Ana-Maria Hrib explains how Bertha Benz secretly drove from Mannheim to Pforzheim and back on August 5, 1888. “She got hold of the fuel during the journey by purchasing a pharmacist’s entire stock of petroleum benzine.” Her journey demonstrated that this invention was suitable for everyday use. “You see, gentlemen,” says Ana-Maria Hrib, “in a crucial drive in automobile history, a woman was behind the wheel.”
The idea of sustainability
It is the same at the Source of Inspiration, a projected wall of water, whose surface responds to touch and influences the water flow. Words such as profit, education, or forest appear. A combination of three terms leads to a pool below. These, too, respond to touch, revealing questions such as: “When is it 5 minutes to 12?” “What is the price of inner values?” or “Would I like to be a polar bear?” There are no answers here, either.
At the end of the tour, one of the visitors is pleased not only about the impressions gained but also about a GTI hat that he bought in the Time Travel shop after a long search. He has long since set his heart on the car. Shortly he will be picking up his Polo GTI.
1 (Combined electricity consumption in kWh/100 km: 24.6–23.7 (NEDC); 26.2–22.6 (WLTP), CO₂ emissions combined in g/km: 0, efficiency class A+)