As we leave Germany and I reflect on my experience there, one common theme sticks out to me about the country as a whole. I’m sure most of you have heard the phrase “German engineering.” It is the idea that Germans have some of the best engineering techniques and implementation in the world. Many theories have been proposed as to why this is the case, but I definitely experienced this phenomenon during our travels. Now, for those of you who don’t know, one of my majors is mechanical engineering and it is something which I am very passionate about. Naturally, I was pumped to form my own opinions about so-called “German engineering.” Brent is also a mechanical engineering major and talking with him about what we were seeing was an excellent way to do so.
The first aspect that is immediately noticeable is the public transit system in Germany. To put it briefly, it is incredible. Traveling around Berlin and Munich was extraordinarily easy with the aid of the S-Bahn and U-Bahn system. The maps, even though they were in German, were easy to read and navigation was no problem at all. Additionally, this train system is integrated very well into the city with stations that are easily noticeable, but not intrusive on the urban landscape. The majority of the lines are underground, thereby limiting eyesores around the cities. The trains were always on time and we encountered no problems with broken-down trains at all. Overall, it is a very well engineered system which encourages and facilitates travel throughout the city. This is something I wish could be implemented a lot better in the US. A few such systems do exist like the Bay Area Rapid Transit System and the New York City subway, but it seems as though all of Germany is connected through these public transit systems, which is very much not the case in the US.
In addition to the public transit system, Germany’s specialty goods were exciting to experience in person. Germany is well-known for precision engineering and for creating some of the highest quality goods in the world. I experienced two major examples of this during my time in Germany – Leica cameras and BMW automobiles. I saw both of these in Munich, a generally wealthier and more expensive city than Berlin. This general level of wealth allows for more luxury goods to be bought, meaning a general increase in quality of the items. The first of these, Leica cameras, Brent and I saw in a small shop on Maximilianstraße, an upscale shopping strip near the city center. Although they are expensive, the quality of these cameras is awesome. Each is assembled by hand in a manufacturing process second to none. Holding one in your hands, they just feel well-built. And the image quality matches the price and process. These are niche cameras, though. They are ridiculously expensive as I mentioned earlier, but they are meant for people who want a quality tool and can afford to pay the price. This matches the idealogy behind lots of German-engineered goods; they are expensive, but do the job in the best way possible.
BMW automobiles are another specialty German-engineered product I got to get up close and personal with during our time in Germany. We visited the BMW museum in Munich, which was a much longer excursion than was probably desired by some of the group. However, it was an awesome experience for me. The coolest part was the displayed mockup of the new M8, the brand new release that just performs incredibly. Additionally, the work BMW has done in the electric field with the i8 and other cars is interesting to me. In my mind, electric cars are the future and exploring that as soon as possible is the way to go.
Far and away the most excited I got in Germany about engineering-related things was in the Reichstag government building in Berlin. The building is amazing not only because of its beauty, but also its structure. At the top is a free-standing glass and steel dome. This dome allows for several unique features of the Reichstag building. First, a set of mirrors inside allows sunlight to be used as natural light in the building, reducing carbon emissions. Additionally, passive heating is used in the same manner with the same effect. Finally, the top of the dome is wide open 365 days a year, letting in rain and snow and draining it out through the middle (a phenomenon Brent and I actually tested). The building was awe-inspiring and something for which I couldn’t contain my excitement. It used many principles I learned about in an engineering class second semester, which was a source of inspiration to continue on the path I’m on.
These are a few of many examples of German precision and engineering, but I believe they are largely indicative of what I saw and experienced in Berlin and Munich.