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Feeling Special At Volkswagen's Autostadt - Places Trading

Jan 1, 2010

"Everybody's special." I remember hearing that in CCD (or as we called it, color, cut, draw). CCD is a type of religious schooling for young Catholics. I can't remember anything from CCD except being terrified. Catholics are big on ceremony. I was afraid if I didn't follow a specific rite exactly I'd burst into flames. It could happen.

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Anyway, Sister Margaret insisted we were all "special" and she delivered the message like she was fertilizing tomato plants, a general blanket blessing on us all. I didn't understand nor believe we could all be special. The kid who transformed his boogers into stunning works of pornographic art, he was special. The rest of us were simply ordinary

Thirty years later I'm walking through Volkswagen's Autostadt in Wolfsburg, and suddenly I feel special. Maybe Sister Margaret was right after all.

Autostadt is probably the first stop for recently deceased VW fans on their way to the afterlife. It's about as close to automotive nirvana as it comes, a sort of paradise for car geeks. In addition to the requisite VW and Audi technical presentations, Autostadt houses a sizable number of vintage automobiles, a number that continues to grow.

"After the Berlin Wall came down we started getting 'barn finds' from East Germany," Autostadt director Nicholas Batten explained. "These cars had been squirreled away following WWII, hidden from the Russians. The owners were happy to see them restored and displayed here."

While the museum has some nice examples of important VWs and Audis, it also houses an eclectic mix of French, American and British iron. Basically, they're the same kinds of cars I'd place in my own, well-rounded collection.

There's an almost surreal vibe to Autostadt and the VW factory located next to it. When I was a kid, this is what I envisioned a car factory would look like. Everything feels larger than life, impossibly big. Remember that Hot Wheels tote that allowed you to stack your cars on revolving carousels? There are two of them at Autostadt, each one about 150 feet high, built from glass and filled with hundreds of new cars. It reeks of total awesomeness.

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From my hotel room I could see the blue-shirted VW factory workers buzzing about, each one with an important, specialized job. I started to wonder if those guys were even real. Maybe this whole thing was controlled in some far off tower by a bunch of giggling VW employees, like a train set in a basement.

It's obvious whoever is controlling Autostadt is doing something right.

In truth, I never wanted to be special. I envisioned myself as one of those blue-shirted VW workers, a small but integral part of something larger.

I'd been eyeing a guy polishing the factory floor. The machine he was using looked like a miniature Zamboni. I can drive one of those! My plan was to knock him out and trade places. I'd be working with Volkswagen for a spell; he would be a magazine editor.

I guess I should tell him the February issue is already at 66 percent due and he's got an 11 a.m. meeting with some angry advertisers.

Me? I have some floors to polish.

Les Bidrawn
Editor
european.car@sorc.com

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