A century ago, Wolfsburg, Germany was all agriculture where farmers fought off pesky beetles. In 1939, another ‘beetle’ traveled north from Stuttgart. Germany created Wolfsburg to produce the Volkswagen Beetle.
Béla Barényi, a Hungarian engineer and prolific inventor, designed the Beetle prototype during the 1920’s. Stuttgart, Germany’s auto capital, primarily produced luxury cars by Daimler and Maybach. In 1933, Adolf Hitler sought a people’s car. The Fuhrer chose Barényi’s design. The goal of the Volkswagen program: build an inexpensive car for two adults and three children; design it for fuel efficiency; and assure it traveled at 100 km/h, or 62 mph. Rather than assembling it in an existing auto factory, the Nazi’s sought a state-sponsored site for the people’s factory.
Ferdinand Porsche, of sports car fame, headed the project to select a site and build the operation. He decided on farmland, near the Wolfsburg Castle, 420 km/ 261 miles north of Stuttgart. Construction began in 1938 for the auto operation and the new city, dubbed Kdf-Stadt. Porsche imagined housing, retail, and other services for 80,000 or more workers. World War II began as the first Volkswagens rolled out. Germany shifted production to military vehicles.
The British captured Kdf-Stadt in 1945. Rather than destroy the buildings, as the Allied bombers did to most German industrial areas, the Brits left them intact. The victors needed light vehicles. Britain ordered 20,000 of the new Volkswagen Beetle. Kdf-Stadt became Wolfsburg. The Beetle became history. An estimated 21 million came out of Wolfsburg before the Beetle retired to Mexico in 1974. Other Volkswagen vehicles continue to be produced at the Wolfsburg operation.
In a country where some of its cities date back to Ancient Rome, a 70 year-plus town is a speck of sand in the hourglass of time. There is no cobbled Alstadt. Aside from the castle, few timber-framed structures draw tourists. A theme park, called Autostadt, opened in 2000. Wolfsburg is proud of its soccer/football stadium that hosts a portion of the FIFA Women’s World Cup matches.
The city of 100,000 is worth a brief stop, if you are in the Hamburg vicinity. Wolfsburg is quirky, like its famous Beetle and Volkswagen Bus. Designed by Porsche, funded by Nazi’s, and saved by the Brits, the city built by a Beetle is a flower-child among the castles and traditions of Germany.