To start off our fourth day, we hopped on a bus and forged ahead to company visit number two: Hirschvogel, a Mittelstand (small, family-owned) company that specializes in forging steel to make various automotive parts such as propeller shafts and ball joints. As we walked through the production plant, we watched colossal machines smash pieces of steel and heard the constant clanging of steel; the air smelled of industrial dust and cigarette smoke, and we could feel the heat radiating from the hot molten metal coming out of the machines.
My personal favorite part of the tour occurred at the very beginning as soon as we walked into the factory: two orange robot arms shaped a metal shaft via the process of hot forging, which involves heating the metal to a high temperature until it glows a bright red in order to increase its malleability, placing it between two plates to create the desired shape, and then putting it in a bath to cool it back down to its normal temperature so that it regains its initial hardness. This reminded me of blacksmithing, which also involves hot forging, but instead of smashing the metal between two plates, blacksmiths use hammers to repeatedly hit the metal and form it into the shape of a sword. I also found the cold forging machines to be quite fascinating; each metal shaft was fed into the side of the machine, which compressed the shaft several times to form the desired shape in cooler temperatures. Overall, watching how robots and machines build steel car parts in person was quite an enlightening experience for me and provided a lot of insight into the specific engineering processes involved in German production methods.
Upon leaving Hirschvogel, we continued on our scenic Alpine bus route to the tiny photogenic village of Oberammergau. This was my second time visiting Oberammergau, so I knew exactly where to get my gelato. Because the village is famous for its wood carvings, I also walked around and looked around the various shops, including the well-known store across the gelato place called Käthe Wohlfahrt, to see what kinds of cuckoo clocks, ornaments, nutcrackers, and other wooden souvenirs they were selling. This part of the day was definitely the most relaxing.
After spending an hour of free time in Oberammergau, we made our way to the Laber cable car and rode it all the way up to the top of the snow-capped Alps, where we marveled at the jaw-dropping panoramic view of the mountain range and took countless pictures. I have been at the top of the Alps a number of times before, but never was the weather as perfect as it was today. The sun and the bright blue sky definitely enhanced everyone’s pictures! I wish the weather could be like this for the rest of the program, but unfortunately, the forecast predicts that we’ll have thunderstorms throughout the rest of this week. Oh well. I enjoyed the ideal weather while it lasted.
With a two-hour bus ride back to the hotel, our main itinerary for today comes to a close. I’m especially excited for tomorrow. You’ll see why.