Today we visited Hirschvogel on our first company visit. I was very excited because I was not sure what to expect from the factory tour. We had an early start to the day and headed off to Hirschvogel. On the bus ride there, we passed Landsberg, where Hitler was imprisoned and wrote Mein Kampf. The Alps were visible as we got closer, and we would be going up to the Alps after the company visit, so there is more to come on that later.
Upon arriving at Hirschvogel, the Vice President and Head of Advanced Engineering gave us a presentation about what Hirschvogel does. It was very interesting to hear about both the technical and business sides of the company since our group is a mix of business and engineering students. I found it interesting that Hirschvogel does not have public shares in its stock, but they are a small family-owned company so it makes sense. He talked a lot about the engineering aspect of Hirschvogel since he is an engineer, so we learned about forging, additive manufacturing (3-D printing), and designing optimum components. The company has to design components based on the customer’s requirements, so they have many engineers (specifically software engineers) coming up with solutions to any issues that come up. The company has an apprenticeship for 16-year-olds to train them early so that they are specialized in an area once they finish school and begin working full time. I think this is a great way to ensure that there are younger workers who really know what they are doing, especially in such an industrial company like Hirschvogel.
The presenter strongly emphasized innovating through employees by incentivizing them. There is a program where employees can send in ideas that will improve the company in any way, big or small, and if the idea is worth looking into, they will receive five euros. The further the idea is looked into, the more the employee is paid. This system is smart because it can only benefit employees. Employees are given a voice, and they can propose changes to anything they think can be made more efficient.
After the presentation, we went on a tour of the factory. The company’s focus is forging, and there are three types: cold, warm, and hot. Each type of forging is done differently, and it was fascinating to watch automotive parts go through a multiple-step process, beginning as a piece of metal and ending as an intricately forged automotive part. Hirschvogel produces so many parts that they go through many tons of steel each day, which costs millions of euros.
We ate lunch at the cafeteria after our tour, and I was pleasantly surprised with the food. I had sausage and Spätzle in a gravy, which was delicious. Many people always get soda or mezzo mix as their drink, but I take advantage of every opportunity to get water, which is apparently a scarce commodity here. One of the biggest challenges in Germany is figuring out how to obtain normal, non-sparkling water because Europeans always have sparkling water. I assumed that almost everyone likes sparkling water, but many of the German students said that they are not big fans of sparkling water.
Once we finished up at Hirschvogel, we headed off to Oberammergau, a town almost on the border of Germany and Switzerland. It was a long, windy drive up the mountains, but the scenery and views were beautiful. We had about an hour of free time in the town before we were going up to the top of the mountains. Oberammergau is a small town that appeared very touristy, but I liked the atmosphere, nonetheless. There were many cafes, ice cream shops, and souvenir shops. Some of the souvenir shops had intricately crafted ornaments and cuckoo clocks which was very fascinating to see.
We then got back on the bus to go to the gondola station. The gondola was essentially a ski lift to take us to the top of the mountain. I was in the first group, and it was a tight squeeze to fit ten people into the gondola, but we managed well and enjoyed the magnificent view on the way up. Though the view from the gondola was amazing, the view of the Alps when we got to the top was a thousand times better. Stepping out and seeing the Alps in front of me is something that I will always remember. The air was so fresh and clean, and the entire scene looked like a painting. There was so much snow on the ground, but it was sunny, so it did not feel cold. The snow was perfect for snowballs, so naturally many of the boys began throwing snowballs to see who could throw them the farthest. Our entire group stayed up there for an hour taking pictures and enjoying the magnificent view.
There was no planned group dinner, so we were on our own for the first time. Sahana, Esme, and I decided to go to Vapiano’s, which is an Italian chain restaurant that has locations in New York City and Washington D.C. Other people from the group were already there when we got there, so we all ate together, and the food was very good. I think Vapiano’s is similar to Piada in Pittsburgh, which I ate too often whenever I needed a break from Market. It was nice to eat some familiar food even though I love all the German cuisine. Most of the workers spoke English well, so we did not have to struggle through ordering our food by pointing to the menu. They have a very efficient system for paying that I have never seen before. Everyone gets a card when you first walk in and anything you order goes onto the card, so at the end they can see how much is on your card and that is essentially your check. I like this method of payment because there are no worries about individual checks versus one large check, and it does not take a long time to pay.
Seeing the Alps was definitely the highlight of the trip so far, and it is going to be difficult to top that (although I have high hopes for Neuschwanstein). The first company visit went well, and I am ready to go to Continental tomorrow!