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BMW factory has robots and relics in Regensburg, Germany's 'medieval miracle'

BMW Z4 GT3 driven by Britain's Marco Attard Aug. 31 during the Avon Tyres British GT Championship at Brands Hatch in Longfield, England.
BMW Z4 GT3 driven by Britain's Marco Attard Aug. 31 during the Avon Tyres British GT Championship at Brands Hatch in Longfield, England.
Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images

The BMW factory in Regensburg, Germany mixes archaeology, dating back 7,000 years, with state-of-the-art robots.

BMW Z4. Tour BMW's factory in Regensburg, Germany and see robots and relics dating back 7,000 years.
BMW Z4. Tour BMW's factory in Regensburg, Germany and see robots and archaeological relics.

Was ist das?

When the massive plant was being built 30 years ago, relics were unearthed that dated back to the Neolithic and Bronze ages.

In fact, artifacts, displayed at the BMW factory visitors' center include a 5,000-year-old model of a wheel, and others tools ranging from an ax to an arrowhead; and a knife to a needle.

Today, the factory's tools include numerous robots, that are fascinating to watch during a tour. They're as agile and graceful as they are efficient.

Using robots has reduced the total time to produce a car from weeks to 35-40 hours, said our guide on a recent tour of the east Regensburg factory.

Even so, some 9,300 human beings are employed at the factory, and much of the work is still done by hand -- each car is unique, the guide pointed out.

Here are some fun facts about this factory that makes the BMW Z4 Roadster and series 1, 3, and M3:

  • It produces some 1,100 cars a day, and about 300,300 vehicles a year.
  • A BMW car body has about 550 components, and up to 5,500 welding points, set by robots.
  • Painting a BMW takes about 12 hours, with robots and humans working together. Each car gets five coats of (water-based) paint. Black remains the favorite color. (Holy BMW! Pop artists who painted BMWs include Warhol, Lichtenstein... see below.)
  • 20,000 pieces are used for completing the painted chassis. Most installation is done by hand.
  • Most-heard joke, "Do we get a free sample?" Even a robot knows the answer.

Most know that BMW stands for Bavarian Motor Works (Bayerische Motoren Werke).

But did we know this:

  • The BMW logo, contrary to popular belief, does not represent a spinning airplane propeller, or the sky. Blue and white are the colors of the state of Bavaria, the guide noted.
  • BMW, before it became known as BMW, first produced airplane engines. (For timeline, click here.)
  • It built the Red Baron's favorite airplane engine, according to "Red Baron: The Life and Death of an Ace" by Peter Kilduff. Baron Manfred von Richthofen, ace pilot of World War One, favored a Fokker triplane, and an ironically named Albatros plane, both painted blood red.
  • Other famous people associated with BMW's include:

-- Elvis, better known for owning and giving away Cadillacs, drove a BMW 507 when he was a GI in Germany (Hello9 "Bye Bye Birdie"). The BMW Museum in Munich mounted a special exhibition "Elvis' BMW 507: lost & found" that ended Aug. 17.

-- Other stars who drove a BMW 507 included Ursula Andress (yes, "Dr. No", the first James Bond movie), and Alain Delon.

-- Reggae king Bob Marley drove a BMW -- "But only because BMW stands for Bob Marley and the Wailers, not because I need an expensive car," the Jamaican sensation insisted.

-- Andy Warhol in 1979 painted -- and autographed -- a BMW M1, as part of the BMW Art Cars project for the company's team in the 24-hour French car race, Le Mans. The pop art king, painting it in just 23 minutes, explained he "tried to give a vivid picture of speed. If the car is driving very fast, all contours and colors are blurred." (Muralist Alexander Calder painted the first in the series, a BMW 3.0 CSL for the team in the 1975 Le Mans; Frank Stella, 1976; Roy Lichtenstein, 1977; Robert Rauschenberg, 1986; David Hockney, 1995, among others, including Jeff Koons, concluding the series in 2010.)

  • BMW's many awards include:

-- The BMW i3 electric vehicle drove off with awards in two categories of the 2014 World Car of the Year awards at the New York International Auto Show last April: World Green Car and World Car Design of the Year.

-- WardsAuto, the influential global auto info center, in its 20th annual 10 Best Engines Awards 2014, included turbodiesels in the BMW 5 Series luxury sedan.

Meanwhile, back in Regensburg, the BMW factory tour touts "Driving pleasure is created here."

The tour is one of several optional excursions offered on the Viking River Cruises' "Romantic Danube" itinerary. Cruising pleasure is created here -- all along their Danube cruises and all their ports of call, certainly including Regensburg.

Regensburg is rated Germany's best-preserved medieval city, dubbed the "medieval miracle". It's part of UNESCO's "Roman remains and Bavarian cheer" route.

Regensburg's medieval Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, dates back more than 2,000 years, and has almost 1,000 historical buildings. You can eat at Germany's oldest restaurant, the 14th century Historische Wurstküche (Old Sausage Kitchen), and/or at Germany's oldest coffee shop, Café Prinzess, dating from 1686. (As Mark Twain said, "To eat is human; to digest, divine.") A divine place to do that is at the 13th century St. Peter's Cathedral, with its awe-inspiring stained glass windows, and twin spires.

Napoleon was injured here in 1809 during the Napoleonic Wars, and Goethe slept here for two nights.

The great writer said in his diary, "Nothing interesting here." For once, Goethe was wrong.

For more info: BMW factory in Regensburg, Germany. Regensburg, Viking River Cruises,, 800-706-1483. "Romantic Danube" cruise.

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