I was on a business trip to Wolfsburg and you might think that this is not worth mentioning. But I liked being there and actually the former "Kraft durch Freude Wagen"-Stadt has an interesting history. Long before the settlement became a city, it was mentioned first in 1302 as residence of the family von Bertensleben. And close to today's Volkswagen Management Guesthouse Rothehof, you can still see the remains of an older small castle in the forest, which might have been built around 1200. With the ending of the von Bertensleben family in 1742, the property was inherited by the Dukes von der Schulenburg.
On May 26th in 1938 the factory for the production of the "Kraft durch Freude Wagen" (Strength through joy car), short KdF-Wagen, was started in construction. To accomodate the workers a new city was built, which was called "Stadt des KdF-Wagens bei Fallersleben" (City of the KdF-Car close to Fallersleben). US Military Intelligence pictures showed very early that the factor which was claimed to have a certain capacity for the production of cars, did not really have much parking space for storage. It became clear that given the strategic location at the Mittellandkanal, it would produce weapons and military equipment to support the Eastern Front in Wold War II. Besides military vehicles and ammunition, it was also a production base for components for the first ever Cruise Missle, called V1 for "Vergeltungswaffe 1", or Fieseler Fi 103. In principle it was a long range missile in the shape of a plane, which was used against long range targets in London and Belgium. In the words of Nazi Propaganda, this was one of Germany's "Miracle Weapons". POWs and forced labor was contained in the concentration camp "KZ Arbeitsdorf" during that time.
On April 11th 1945 the plant became target of an allied air strike and was distroyed. After capitulation the young British Major Ivan Hirst was in command of the facilities and on May 25th 1945 the city was renamed "Wolfsburg". Hirst found a few "Beetles", painted them green and offered them to the British Forces. They were amazed by the little robust car and asked for production of 1000 units. Hirst rejected the disassembly of the plant and managed basic reconstruction, restarted production and started export. By proposal of him, Heinrich Nordhoff became then General Manager of Volkswagen in 1948. It became clear, the company has a future. Volkswagen has an excellent archive and if you are interested to read more, you can download Ivan Hirst - Britischer Offizier und Manager des Volkswagenwerks. I was planning to try and meet Major Hirst in his retirement domicile in Manchester, but he unfortunately passed away in the year 2000 before I could get through to him.
Today Wolfsburg is a small town, which is trying but struggling to break up the monoculture which has developed around the Volkswagen Plant in its post war history. Many initiatives have made the city more attractive and the list would be too long to write about them all. It is not a lack of architecrual hardware, which still keeps Worlfsburg provincial. Also the list of people who shaped Volkswagen and the city is too long to be lined up here. Sure, Ferdinand Piech, who is our chairman of the board and has lead the company to great success, even beyond his time as CEO. But for me, one man has to be mentioned who with his vision has not just made Volkswagen a real Multinational Company, but also started our China Business in 1983 - Dr. Carl Horst Hahn, truly beyond an auto manager a pioneer of globalization. I was very honored that my request to meet him in his office was accepted and without talking much about cars, I was stunned by a charismatic and visionary gentleman, who understands the full complexity of the world we live in. Such a discussion I did not have in 13 years Volkswagen. If there is anything like wisdom in our industry, now I know one place to find it.
I also traveled on the weekend to Podsdam and Berlin and I hope you forgive me, that I do not mention them on my travel blog. It would have been too much to write. After returning to China, I also was in Shanghai and taught a few days at Tongji University, before returning to Beijing and now preparing for a long haul along the Silk Road into the very West of China.