Welcome to Volkswagen's Autostadt, a mixture of delivery center, museum and vehicular theme park. It opened back in 2000, but has been continually upgraded and updated, making it a very interesting destination. Anyone who purchases a VW in Germany can choose to pick up their car here, rather than at the dealership. There's a fee (approximately 300 Euro, or roughly $380), but that's actually significantly cheaper than the delivery fee at a dealer. For that, you get free admission to the theme park.
Prior to opening Autostadt, designers visited Disney's iconic parks to get some ideas and inspiration. Some of the fun and whimsy is definitely present in the architecture.
The park is quite large, covering some six square kilometers (about four square miles). Big, open areas feature crazy means of transportation -- perfect for tiring out the kids before the long drive home.
The facility offers a series of museums, starting here with a look at the process of vehicle creation.
Here's a full-scale clay model of the latest Volkswagen Golf, showing both how it was sculpted and, on the other side, how it actually looks.
Of course, you wouldn't start with a full-scale model. Here a 3D machining robot converts a digital model of the Golf into clay.
Here, a look inside of some of the cars of the broader Volkswagen Group, cross-cut and exploded for your viewing pleasure.
This is the rear end of a Lamborghini Aventador, sliced through to show the carbon fiber bodywork and composite chassis.
Here, something a bit more posh: a Bentley Continental. (Bentley and Lamborghini are, these days, both subsidiaries of Volkswagen Group.)
Finally, the engine compartment of a Porsche Panamera, the hybrid model with its supercharged V-6. You can see the supercharger sitting on top of the engine cylinders, and the bright orange cabling that drives power to the hybrid system.
Autostadt has an large section dedicated to fostering greater knowledge about the environment, including the sourcing of raw materials and how much water is used in manufacturing cars. No surprise, that section of the museum is green.
More eye-catching, bizarre architecture -- and more places for the kids to play.
Off in the distance, a pair of towers loom. We'll be visiting those shortly.
Autostadt features a small but impressive museum full of cars that are rotated regularly. Obviously the focus is on cars that are part of the Volkswagen Group, but there are plenty of other "icons" to be found here.
This is a cherry example of a 1983 VW GTI, the last of the first generation of Rabbit. This is the car that kicked off the "hot hatch" trend that, 30 years later, is still very much a thing.
The museum is a great mix of attainable cars, like this Porsche 914, and less attainable ones, like the lovely Lamborghini Miura. Both were produced about the same era, but while a 914 in beautiful condition will cost you about $20,000 today, a Miura like that one is more like $1,000,000.
Even bikes get their due, like this 1930s Ariel.
A beautiful mix of architecture is found throughout the park. This awning is dedicated to Ferdinand Porsche, and houses the Porsche Pavillion.
Inside, a series of modern Porsches are backed by a look back at the company's lineage.
All the cars are silver: the classic color for German racing cars. This is thanks to Auto Union stripping the paint off their early grand prix cars to save weight, running them bare.
Now, to the towers. This isn't an office complex...
Get a little closer and you'll see it's full of... cars!
Yes, cars. New cars, all waiting for delivery. Autostadt, you see, is actually the world's largest delivery center, and these two towers house all the cars that will be delivered on a given day.
600 cars are picked up every day at the Autostadt, and every night they're loaded up into the tower. On this monitor, customers can watch their car being retrieved.
A robot arm swings up and retrieves each car automatically, delivering it to the ground floor with no human intervention. If this is looking familiar, that's because a similar set of towers appeared in "Mission: Impossible, Ghost Protocol." They actually wanted to film at Autostadt, but VW turned them away, as it would have disrupted too many deliveries.
Once retrieved from the tower, the cars go through a final bit of preparation behind these doors.
And, finally, delivery. Here, a family picks up their brand new Golf Sportvan, which likely rolled off the assembly line just the day before. That's fresh.