In late May I paid a visit to Ryan at Steve Thomas BMW which started with a test drive and ended with me handing him a deposit. I told him I wanted an E90, but wouldn't be able to make the trip to Germany until September, and at the time there were rumors of production stopping in July. Even though I told him I'd "settle" for an E92, my heart was really set on an E90. He told me it shouldn't be a problem, and put my fears to rest. Over the next couple of weeks I received confirmation of my desired delivery date and the long wait to September started.
I had talked to my father last year about joining me for a trip to Germany under the guise of a simple getaway. As the summer came to a close I was ready to buy my plane tickets, but my father was having second thoughts on being able to take three weeks off of work and joining me. While originally I hadn't planned on telling him the real purpose of my trip, I felt I'd better make a full disclosure so that he could make an informed decision. He went from unsure to completely on board in the few seconds it took me to tell him I was picking up an M3. He put in some long hours to make to make the trip fit his schedule, and for that I'm grateful.
We purchased plane tickets and booked our first night in Munich at the Leonardo Royal Hotel. (The hotel is a very short walk to the U-Bahn station, and only one stop away from Welt.) I also started a google map with most of the points of interest that we wanted to visit while over there.
We took off from SFO on September 20th and landed in Munich on the 21st. We landed at about 10am and were at the hotel by noon. They had no problems letting us check in early, so we dropped our stuff, cleaned up, and headed back out to BMW Welt.
We headed up to the Premium Lounge and picked up our cards so we could go on the factory tour and check out the museum. While in the lounge we took advantage of some good food and drinks. We then rushed to catch the tour that we'd missed the start of. Oops. The factory tour was good and kept us awake. After this we headed over to the museum. Plenty of cool stuff to see there.
After leaving the museum, the lack of sleep was starting to catch up with both of us, so we headed back to the hotel. With a bit of a second wind (no doubt thanks to a good, hot shower) we rode the U-Bahn over to the Oktoberfest grounds. I was in no way prepared for the scale of Oktoberfest, it was simply massive. We spent a couple of hours walking around, eating and drinking. If you have an opportunity to include Oktoberfest in your ED, I highly recommend it.
The next morning was delivery day. We headed over to Welt, dropped our bags off at the front desk and took some time to look around. Before I knew it, it was time to head up to the lounge and take delivery of the car. I walked out on the viewing area off of the lounge and saw my car for the first time as it was right at the end of the staircase. For the first time since I placed the deposit, I became truly excited. Before I knew it, we were taken down the stairs, and I got to soak it all in.
We left Munich and headed north to Dresden.
I had a service appointment back in Munich in four days to get the break-in service done. So the plan was to rack up some miles. Before we got too far out of Munich we had to stop for the first fill up. This we become an almost daily occurrence.
At this point I had no room reservations for the rest of the trip and when we made it to Dresden, the hotel we'd wanted was booked for the weekend. After a quick search on my phone (which turned out to be incredibly useful over the course of the trip) we had a room booked and headed over to check-in. We spent the rest of the evening wandering around the old city. It's amazing to see it essentially rebuilt after being decimated in the war.
The next day we headed west to the site of the former Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Like always, these experiences are sobering.
On Saturday we headed north towards Potsdam for the day. We spent almost the entire day walking around Sanssouci Park.
On Sunday the plan was to head back south towards Munich. Before we could do this, we needed to put more miles on the car, so Sunday morning we headed east to the German town of Görlitz which is located on the Polish border.
We spent Sunday afternoon driving south towards Munich. On Monday morning, we got up and dropped the car off at the dealer and headed into the city center to walk around. We wandered around Marienplatz and then headed over to the Munich Residenz.
There was some amazing inlay work in the furniture, including this piece.
In the early afternoon we headed back to the dealer to pick up the car. I knew the service would be a little pricey, but they still managed to surprise me with a bill of almost $750! In the end it was nothing compared to the fun that we would have over the next week and a half. All in all the dealership experience was very easy and I was out of there in less than ten minutes. On our way out of Munich we managed to catch this in some late testing:
The plan was to head south towards the Alps and drive Grossglockner on Tuesday. We booked a great room in the ski town of Inzell. It was peaceful, included covered parking and had great views.
After a lazy morning we set our sights on Grossglockner. Of the mountain passes we drove on the trip, this by far was my favorite. The road surface was excellent, the temperature just right, and it was fairly deserted.
At the top you reach the Pasterze Glacier. If we'd had the time, I would have loved to hike down to it, but the sun was going to set in a few hours and there was plenty of winding roads yet to tackle. There's also a restaurant (decent) and an automobile display at the top.
Check out the drivetrain on this motorcycle on display.
We hopped back in the car and headed down the mountain.
The next day we headed back into Austria to visit Salzburg. If you go, park inside the mountain. If not for the experience and to say you've done it, the location is great. You can take a tram up to the castle, but we walked and enjoyed the views.
The next day we headed off to see Neuschwanstein. We took the bus up and went to Mary's Bridge for the views. The bridge was packed, but if you push through the near side you'll be rewarded with plenty of space by mid-span. I'd say the tour here was worth the price, but they frowned on interior photos.
After leaving Neuschwanstein, we headed to Linderhof Palace. It was fairly small and the tour was quick, but the drive out to it made it totally worth it. So much so that I would suggest driving out to it even if you don't want to tour the grounds.
The following day we headed back north with a stop in Stuttgart and the Porsche museum.
After Stuttgart we headed to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. This is one of the better walled cities in Germany and worth a stop. We stayed one night, did the Night Watchman's Tour, walked on top of the wall and did some general exploring.
The "new" door from the 1500s.
After Rothenburg ob der Tauber the plan was to head north to Nürburg. On the way north we stopped at a few castles including Burg Eltz (which is under renovation) where I had some tasty lunch.
Due to our schedule, the weekend that we spent in Nürburg coincided with German Unity Day and the associated long weekend. Needless to say, it was packed. The first night in town we ate at the Pistenklause restaurant. Worth the stop for the food and decor. The next day the only car we saw go around the Nürburgring was a safety car. There had been a pretty big accident before we got there, and the track remained closed for the day.
I did spot this CSL among the spectators' cars.
After a day in Nürburg we decided to head south to Trier for dinner. We ate near the central square and picked up some ice cream (which the Germans seem to love, it's everywhere) and went to St. Peter's Cathedral.
(Sorry for the crappy phone pics.)
Coming back from Trier I managed to go a steady 130mph on the autobahn the whole way back. This car was made to just eat up the miles.
The next morning we were in line for the entrance to the Nürburgring before the track opened. Once again there was a rather large accident before we could even get to the gates and the track was closed once again. At this point we had a long distance to go, and gave up on the idea of driving the 'Ring. I checked throughout the day and it did open up again earlier in the afternoon, but that didn't last long either, and it was closed again due to an accident. Seeing all the accidents and hearing about all the close calls I think missing running the Nürburgring was for the better. We ended the day in Southern Germany on the Austrian border with our sights set on Stelvio Pass for the morning.
I'm sure most here have heard of Stelvio and its lore. I had planned out an absolute epic day of driving. We would head south, through Austria, into Italy, over Stelvio Pass, across Italy, into Switzerland, over San Bernardino Pass, through Liechtenstein, back across Austria and into Germany.
In the end I was a little disappointed in Stelvio Pass. The road surface was pretty poor and most of the road up is so narrow that you really can't pass too often. Going down the back (south face) was better, a little more open and I was able to open up the car a bit more. I'm not sure how others who have driven it feel, but I wouldn't go back, and I'm not sure I'd recommend someone go out of their way to drive it.
After Stelvio we cut across Italy towards Switzerland. Some of the drive was scenic, but it was squelched by my increased blood pressure as we wound through some of the narrowest two way streets I'd ever driven. The passenger side mirror spent way to much time inches away from rock walls. The roads got better when we crossed into Switzerland where we filled up on gas and picked up a vignette. Our final destination was San Bernardino Pass. The sun was starting to set as we went up, but it was still a great drive. It's a little bit off the beaten path, but I'd recommend checking it out if you have time.
Our last day with the car was a little bittersweet. I was ready to go home, but the trip had been amazing. We packed up the car and headed back north towards Munich. I'm not sure why he hadn't, but my dad hadn't really explored the car's top end. So, after checking into the hotel early and unloading the car, I called and moved our drop off appointment later in the day and headed out in search of some open autobahn. Fortunately for my dad he was able to get in a few good runs on the north side of Munich.
The last thing to do was wash the car and drop it off at the airport.
I ended up spending roughly 1200 Euros on fuel, less than I'd planned.
It's amazing to experience this car on its home turf. The roads in Germany are phenomenal. We never came across debris or potholes or anything of the sort. It allows you to focus on the cars around you, and just drive. Quite refreshing compared to driving here in California.
I had the car for two weeks and we drove almost 3400 miles. Getting the break-in service done was a must for me, and I think it made the trip much better. Coincidentally I recently received my reimbursement check from Steve Thomas BMW. It sounds like they had to jump through some hoops, but in the end, they took care of it. Buying from Ryan was a breeze, and as my car cleared customs a week ago, I should be seeing it fairly soon.
The car itself is quite impressive. I chose to go with the DCT partly because I didn't think the 6MT felt all that great, but more because I'm enamored with the technology. I had the car up to an indicated 160 mph a few times, and never did it feel out of place. In fact, before the break-in service was completed I set the speed warning at 100 mph and was constantly setting it off. I'm not really thrilled with iDrive and have used better navigation systems before, iDrive just seems a little cumbersome. The DCT still seems to be at its best when it's being pushed hard; it stumbles a bit at slow speeds. Nothing will take away from winding that S65 up to the redline though. The engine is incredible and the rev-matched downshifts are sublime.
One last note. I'll admit that I'm addicted to my smartphone, but having one while on the trip made life so much easier. It was easy to keep in touch with people, find points of interest, perform translations, etc. For 20 Euro I was able to pick up a SIM card from the LIDL chain of grocery stores and have 5 gigs of data for the month! Such a better deal than here in the states. I was also able to get a chip and pin bank card through my mother's Canadian bank. Although it was nice to have, the only place I couldn't use my normal cards was at the train stations. But, if you carry cash along with US credit cards, I don't see you having a problem.
Lastly I have an unused ring card with four laps and an essentially brand new Nexus S that's in mint condition. If you're interested in either for your trip, they're both for sale, send me a PM.