There’s been a lot of excitement this week in East Germany as Elon Musk’s Gigafactory launched to a rapturous reception. Elon flew in to cut the ribbon as the first 30 vehicles produced at the facility were handed over to customers.
The event was hosted by Andre Traurig, vehicle manufacturing lead at Tesla, and included a speech by Elon Musk, with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Economy Minister Robert Habeck, and Brandenburg Prime Minister, Dietmar Woidke in attendance. Big props to Tobia King who filmed and translated the opening speeches. You can watch the whole thing in the video below:
This is a game-changer for the German auto market
This is Tesla’s first manufacturing plant in Europe, and it hopes to produce roughly 30,000 vehicles in the first six months, with a target of manufacturing a whopping 500,000 cars per year in the future. The new Gigafactory also aims to generate 50-gigawatt hours of battery power, surpassing all other plants in Germany.
— Thorben (@ThorbenGroth) March 22, 2022
Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz will be shaking in their Birkenstocks trying to think of ways to compete with the brand. The Tesla Model 3 was Germany’s 7th biggest seller in 2021, a jump of a massive 48 positions compared to the previous year.
I’ll be really curious to see how fast other car makers can respond to the competitive demands for renewable energy and especially battery innovation, an area where Tesla has really excelled, especially if you include the Powerwall.
A real shot at financial prosperity for East Germany
One of the biggest wins for Germany is the Gigafactory’s location in the East. Grunheide is actually 54km (33 miles) from Berlin.
East Germany still struggles with social, cultural, and economic issues with higher levels of unemployment and lower levels of completed education than West Germany. Right-wing parties like the Alternative für Deutschland (AFD) succeed in the once-Communist East.
The new Tesla factory will bring more expat-skilled migrants to the area. There may be some antagonism from established local blue-collar workers, even though the Tesla factory is not only creating a huge amount of jobs but also valuable training programs. Hopefully, one thing all people can find common ground on is the bizarre spectacle that is Elon’s dancing:
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see regular raves become a thing after hours…
Elon Musk speaking in German, thanking the @Tesla team for all their hard work … & that it’s worth remembering that every car made at #GigaBerlin is a step in direction of a sustainable future.@elonmusk @tesla 🇩🇪🇩🇪 pic.twitter.com/29NVAXo0Yt
— Gail Alfar (Austin) (@GailAlfarATX) March 22, 2022
But Elon will have a lot to learn about navigating the land of men who wear socks and sandals, pressing thumbs, and sending a letter when it could have been an email.
Tips for Elon in navigating the best and wurst of Deutschland
As an Ausländer myself who has lived in East Germany (Berlin and Leipzig) for almost a decade, I know that Germany has some cultural quirks. So I wanted to offer Elon some tips from the land of wurst, beer, and the German way.
I got assistance from Victoria Messer, a relocation and onboarding professional, and a former factory floor worker from Tesla’s Fremont factory speaking off the record — I’ll call him Tesla man to conceal his identity.
Spark up in Germany!
We know Elon’s fond of a doobie. Cigarette smoking is something else. While smoking makes you a pariah in much of the US, it’s very much the norm in Germany, especially East Germany.
I remember being shocked when I first moved there to find that restaurants had a smoking section separated by a door from the rest of the dining room.
Even bars turn a blind eye, putting ashtrays out with the beer mats.
I remember interviewing a local startup with American founders making IIoT (Industrial internet of things) software. I asked how they got leverage into German factories, which can be resistant to change.
They’d rock up at 7 AM and smoke with the workers on their morning tea break (they literally took up smoking for this purpose). Fire up, Elon!
A weg beer
Drinking in public is standard in Germany. I do it myself. Even better, kids can start drinking beer and wine at the age of 15. These can be easily purchased at local corner stores (spätis), bakeries, and supermarkets.
Every day I see men in work clothes drinking on the tram and train as I go to work.
Sure, they might be night shift workers or on their way to work, but it always amuses me. Tesla apparently bought a rail track, planning to operate a shuttle train that would help employees commute to the factory. It’s a lot slower than a hyperloop, so there’ll be plenty of time to sip a beverage.
— Gali (@Gfilche) October 9, 2021
As we reported, Tesla’s Gigafactory is producing their very own beer, Gigabier. I’ll be sure to look out for them on my commute.
Victoria reminded me of the German birthday workplace rule:
Elon’s going to have to bring his own cake for his birthday.
Further, while it’s common in the US for people to chip in and pay for your meal on your birthday, in Germany, when you invite your friends or colleagues to lunch on your birthday, you pay.”
Don’t worry, Germany has amazing bakeries!
Work to live
Germany has strong labor laws, and you’ll have a contract about the hours you are permitted to work with some caveats for overtime where you get time off in return. Tesla man shared:
There is a huge divide at Tesla between production employees and non-production staff. Overtime is minimized for production employees because it quickly drives up the cost.
For non-production employees, they are typically on a fixed salary. Non-production employees will likely have a rub if they are expected to work extra hours, as is the norm in the US.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Some large German companies, such as Daimler, even have formal HR policies specifying that email received during vacation time can be deleted or filed unread.
The right way is the German way
Have you heard of that expression, “How to tell if someone’s vegan, don’t worry they’ll let you know?”
In Germany, it’s the same thing; locals have no compunction giving you uninvited commentary on anything they think you are doing incorrectly.
Is it pedantic? Yep. Annoying? Yep.
As Tesla man shared:
For production employees actually building/assembling the vehicles, Germany will likely be a really good fit because of the focus on quality, productivity, and attention to detail.
This also, however, leads to a mountain of bureaucracy — this could have its own article.
Food is serious stuff
I’m not going to say anything against German food, even if I do get traumatized by mystery meat products when I go to the supermarket. It’s too easy.
But one thing you notice a lot in Germany is that colleagues eat lunch together. They’ll literally lock the door and head out to a restaurant for an hour. In the US (and Australia) it’s more common to use your lunch break to run errands.
Further, wurst is serious stuff. A few years ago, police were called to a Mercedes Benz shareholder’s meeting to break up a fight about sausages. Daimler provided some 12,500 sausages for the 5,500 attendees at the meeting.
This became a problem when one man took more than his share.
Oh, if you want good Mexican food like you enjoy back in Cali and Austin, you better fly in a chef.
Do you like to chat? Victoria advises:
I think it could be a little bit awkward if you make too much small talk with your colleagues, especially if you’re working in a very German company.
Herr, Frau, Sie
In many workplaces, German colleagues will still address each other formally as Herr Y and Frau X and use formal you Sie, even if they have sat in the same office together for several years.
It’s dying out in younger workplaces, but, according to Victoria, it’s likely to be common practice with many Tesla suppliers.
Beszélsz magyarul? Victoria pointed out that Tesla is bringing in assembly-line workers from Eastern Europe, specifically Hungary and Poland. She noted:
It will be interesting to see what the culture is like, based on the different language capabilities, because everyone speaks some English, but some of the older engineers may only be fluent in Deutsch or Russian.
Further, they’d like to think otherwise, but Germany is not as culturally diverse as it would like to be. Or as an African American friend would say at coworking space events “If you want to be in all the photos, stand next to me.” It was true.
Get your Twitter snark on, Elon
German customer service has a pretty bad reputation for a bunch of reasons. Here are some tips for Twitter from one of our local supermarket chains:
Another lesson in cultural differences ?
American companies: we’re so sorry [incident] happened. Please message us with further details so we can look into the matter.
German companies: We’re sorry you were wrong about [incident]. https://t.co/Xa65J4ZOb7
— Jessie (@oaeblog) September 26, 2020
For those in auto manufacturing, Germany has loads of benefits: affordable health care and education, free childcare, clean air, lots of lakes, and green spaces, etc.
Overall, having Tesla in Brandenburg is a big boost to East Germany — the solidarity tax is only just being abolished. So Tesla will bring jobs, and hopefully more housing in the area as well. Hopefully, it will be good for the locals. And, maybe Elon will drink his beer, eat a bratwurst, smoke indoors, and buy a birthday cake.
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