It’s difficult to describe exactly what a trip like this means to a VW/Audi enthusiast, or even for a “car guy” in general. Luckily, most of you reading this already understand. It is the fulfillment of a dream, the marking off of a bucket list item. For years we read articles about, saw videos about and discussed loosely making a trip to the biggest VW/Audi show in the world – Worthersee treffen.
Our discussions suddenly became more real when Jamie from Orchid Euro contacted us about helping him with his build for Worthersee 2016. He wanted to completely restore, in 90 days, a 1996 Golf Harlequin to bring it to the 35th anniversary of the show. It was ambitious for sure, to paint, assemble, and bring back to life a car that had not driven in years. For more of the story of the car, check out our article on it HERE.
To get to the heart of the matter – with the help of many along the way, the build was a complete success. Built, driving, and put on a VW shipping vessel just in time to make it to the show. Now all we had to do was to fly to Europe and pick up the harlequin on the way to Austria.
Our flights were booked to London (we were to pick up the car at a port in southern England) and we were ready to go. Since we had a lot of driving to do, we would end up with a pretty tight schedule to get to lake Worthersee on time to see the show, so there wasn’t much time for unscheduled activities. I decided that I would fly into London a day early to take in the sights.
A quick day trip around London gave me a chance to check out some of the major sightseeing sites around the city. But even better, arriving a day early on Saturday afforded me the opportunity to see the FA cup semifinal match between Manchester United and Everton. To put it simply, for a sports fan, it was an amazing experience. After Anthony Martial’s stoppage time winner, I will forever have the Manchester United chant in my head: “Tony Martial the boy from France, British press said he had no chance, fifty million down the drain, TONY MARTIAL SCORES AGAIN”
With a quick day of sightseeing finished, it was time to get back on track – we had a lot to accomplish and a tight timeline. I hopped on a train to Guildford to meet up with Jamie and Matt. Our original plans had us picking up the Harlequin on the south shores of England, but since the orignial ship was delayed, we now had to drive across several countries to pick the car up in Emden, Germany. Luckily VW was kind enough to supply us with a beautiful 2016 Passat TDI wagon. Not the terrible US Passat, but the wonderful Euro B8 version with all the options that could be had when checking all those little boxes.
In no time we were on a ferry, watching the cliffs of Dover recede into the distance. Matt did a bit of filming while I caught up on the soccer headlines from the day before.
Sailing into the night we crossed the English channel and arrived at Dunkirk, France. We had a little time for filming, but not time for much else. We had to race across France, Belgium and the Netherlands to make it to Northern Germany by the next afternoon.
We arrived late at night to our Hotel in the Netherlands, where we were met by the Golf Country, always a pleasant surprise. Our caravan had now increased to two vehicles. We immediately tested its off-road skills by driving it over the parking curb at the hotel.
After a bit of sleep, someone decided it was a good idea to give me the keys to the Passat TDI press car, and I got my first experience driving a RHD manual diesel on LHD European roads.
It took a bit of getting used to for sure. After a quick fuel stop for the Golf Country, we were on our way north towards Emden Germany and the VW factory/port where the Golf Harlequin was waiting for us. This was our opportunity to find out just what the top speed of a TDI150 engined Passat was. After some some scientific testing, we determined it was approximately 140mph, going downhill.
As we moved north into Germany, the bright skies and sunshine gave way to dark clouds and eventually snow, as we arrived in Emden.
The deterioration of the weather would not deter us however, as we had important things to accomplish. First was arriving at the Emden VW factory/port and second was finding security personnel that understood enough English/our terrible German who would let us on the premises. The Emden factory is where all Passats and CCs are made for the world market. It’s also the shipping point for almost every VW and Audi that’s manufactured in Europe and destined for another continent. As you drive up, you see miles of rail cars with VWs and Audis of every size and type waiting their turn in line for the boarding of one of the giant VW transport ships to sail them across the ocean to their final destination. In our case, the Harlequin was hanging out with hundreds and hundreds of VW Amaroks. Sadly, none of them destined for the US..
Sitting unassumingly in the corner of the lot, was the star of our show, the 1996 Golf Harlequin we had shipped here to take us the rest of the way on this journey – from the Nurburgring, Munich, Stuttgart and on to Austria and back. It was a cold and blustery day, but we were warmed by the excitement of what laid ahead. Though our visit was short, it was time to say goodbye to the Golf Country. It was headed back on one of those big VW ships to the USA.
After we got the Harlequin loaded up and on the road we made a quick stop in Emden for some lunch and a little shopping before we headed south again to the Netherlands to have the Harlequin cleaned and flat polished for its trip to Austria.
Pushing south, we found ourselves on fewer motorways and more of the glorified bike paths that Northern Holland considers roads. There is enough for one, maybe one and a half cars at any given time on these two-way streets.
After a few close calls with oncoming traffic, and some driving around in circles trying to find our way, we eventually made it to Chris Muller’s shop – Dutch Car Detailing. Asking around, for who should be trusted to polish the harlequin, the almost universal answer Jamie got was “take your car to Chris”. He was as dedicated as he was friendly to fellow VW enthusiasts, washing the car outside in near freezing temperatures, then polishing it, (with Jamie’s help) in his then-uncompleted workshop.
As everyone worked feverishly in the cold (no hvac yet in the workshop) I took the opportunity to install our custom GSBH Harlequin paint matched shift knob and black Alcantara boot on the shift lever. The only real visible aftermarket modification the car received (outside of the oem+ wheels). And of course I made sure the car had a few BFI tree decals.
After a bit of quick work, the Harlequin was ready for its first impromptu photo shoot – right there in the workshop.
Tired and miles from our night’s destination, we headed South again. This time towards Dusseldorf, where we would spend the night.
After sleeping in a bit, we decided to do a little shopping in Dusseldorf and grab a bite to eat before we went on our way again. This time with a quick stop at a junk yard, but ultimately making our first big stop – The Nurburgring!
It was late afternoon by the time we got to the track, but of course we needed to stop and take a picture at the grand prix section of the south course.
And of course by the time we were waiting to get on track, it was once again snowing – thankfully that only lasted for a short time and was over by the time we were ready to get on the ring.
The track was drying quickly, and the sun came out, but in those slightly wet conditions we were able to find out how unprepared we were for a slick nurburgring. It was an amazing time nonetheless, and more fun than I can properly put into words, even if we missed the occasional apex and had to avoid the curbs.
The harlequin was right at home on the ring – here it is exiting the lesser known second of the two carousels.
And by chance we ran into another Passat wagon, with an American flag in the window too! What are the chances?!?
The track map on the timing building was not quite detailed enough to provide any useful tips for traveling the ring, but after our half-dozen or so laps I left with the distinct impression that I would have it down after another hundred or so.. Such an amazing experience, but its a good thing we didn’t spend too much time here as we would likely rack up a debt to the track.
Afterwords we headed into the town of Nurburg and saw some of the many OE testing facilities at the Nurburging, and had dinner at one of the several restaurants there. Soon enough we would be back on the road towards Heidelburg.
The facility includes a test and feel center, where customers can choose and touch various finishes, steering wheels, seats and more. You can also look at great Audis of the past or play a quick game of foosball.
Luckily, my Ice Blue RS6 Performance was ready for pickup.
With our visit to the Audi Forum complete, it was time to make our way through Bavaria and up into the Austrian Alps.
The views traveling into Austria were spectacular, but as we got closer to lake Worthersee, we ran into some unexpected weather – a spring snow storm, which made for some even more beautiful scenery, but also caused quite a few delays for anyone traveling around or trying to get to the lake.
Though we certainly didn’t plan to be traveling in a winter wonderland, we surprisingly made it through the hills and to our condo without any major incident – though we couldn’t quite make it up our driveway.
Despite a snowfall total of 7 inches the previous day – when we left our house to drive to Faakarsee we found that the crowds of show cars and spectators were not deterred at all by the weather.
For those that are unaccustomed to how the Worthersee “show” works, its a bit different than what most of us in the US would expect. The actual event – the GTI Treffen at Reifnitz is what we would consider the actual show, but for 2, even 3 weeks prior to the event, many world class project cars from around Europe gather in the parking lots and shopping centers creating giant impromptu meets near the towns that surround the lake. Impromptu may not be the right word since these meets happen like clockwork every day for almost a month. One of the biggest being at a shopping center in Faakarsee.
It was an unexpected surprise when the Audi Worthersee RS tour rolled into the parking lot of Faakarsee while we were standing there. Since Audi did not have an official display at the GTI treffen this year, they chose to let us see ALL their recent previous years projects, up close and in person. They were even giving ride alongs in the one-of-a-kind cars, and letting patrons drive brand new R8s, RS7s and RS6s.
You could choose to ride along in either the A3 Clubsport, The TT Clubsport or the A1 Clubsport, all with 2.5T power plants, with up to 660hp in the case of the twin charged TT Clubsport with its Electric supercharger in addition to the custom big turbo. It was amazing to be in and around cars that most people have only seen as posters or as pictures on internet car blogs.
With our OE project car geeking out having come to an end, it was time to focus on the other amazing cars in the parking lot. We found a properly modified R-line version of our TDI passat wagon. We tried to trade, but the owner wasn’t interested.
Though there is no shortage of beautifully modified late model cars there is a definite focus on the original generations of watercooled Volkswagens and Audis. The Germans have a particular reverence for the early variants of the breed, what they call “Old Timers”.
Even other makes slide in to fill areas of the parking lot, which, as long as the cars are of a certain quality level, nobody seems to mind. This luscious E30 was right at home with all the others.
Best of all, you’re likely to find the best-of-breed cars just hanging out in the parking lot, like this Corrado with 3 piece G60 wheels.
Or this Mk1 Scirocco with type 1 Ronal Racing wheels. This particular car was a favorite of those “in the know”.
And the lovely Auto Finesse Mk2 with its small bumpers and BBS body kit was period correct, and perfect.
With our first meet under our collective belt, it was time to head to the iconic Mishculnig Eni station (formerly Shell) that is the heart of the Worthersee experience. The stations namesake owner even has a webcam that fans can check 24/7 during the show.
The station even has a show parking area for temporary display area for the nicest cars at the station. Like this mental Auto Finesse Mk2 with its 3 piece BBS RAs and paint job that reveals raw engine turned steel in strategic areas.
But the primary function of the station is as a place for show goers to re-fuel themselves and their cars, and as a fully operational wash area, for the required daily car washes for all those wanting to see and be seen.
Of course Jamie couldn’t pass up his chance at this right of passage for the USA to Worthersee Harlequin. Its the most excited we’ve seen him about washing a car.
After our initial Worthersee experience we decided to go back to Germany to do some sight seeing and meet up with friends before we came back to Austria for the official Treffen in Reifnitz.
First stop was back to Munich – with a day of sightseeing and some lunch at the Milch Hausl – with an appropriately sized beer, of course.
Then we went on the hunt for treasures at the many Munich flea markets. As you can see, many interesting items were out there for the taking, at the right price of course.
With treasures secured from our hunt – we went for a visit at BMW Welt / Museum. Attached to the BMW headquarters, the BMW Welt acts as a hub and delivery point for new cars coming from the factory. The museum is another building in the complex that both shows BMWs history but also its overall design philosophy.
A plethora of interesting BMWs including the LeMans winning V12 LMR.
With an equal mix of production cars, art installations, prototypes, race cars and hardware, the BMW museum was undoubtedly the most beautiful we would visit on our trip.
The next morning we made our way across southern Germany (at about 130 mph on the autobahn) to meet up with our friend at the Porsche museum in Stuttgart.
The harlequin looked right at home in front of the entrance to the museum.
The current gallery focus of the Porsche museum “Die Transaxle Ara” (the trans axle era), with a special exhibit for the 924, 944 and 928. But as would be expected with Porsche, much of the museum is focused on their rich racing heritage.
With a plethora of important 911s, the 904, 906, 908 and 917 all had an important presence in the halls of the museum.
Almost every Le Mans racing/winning Porsche is there in the museum. Including a 956 on the ceiling. Showing off the fact that its “ground effects” created so much down force that at speed the car could theoretically drive upside down.
And of course the crown jewel in the collection is the 2015 (and now 2016) Le Mans winning 919 hybrid.
Our trip now turned back toward Austria, but instead of going straight back to Worthersee, we decided to make a stop in the Tyrol area of the Austrian Alps. We learned from a German friend that the German government considers Tyrol a “wellness area”, meaning that doctors can prescribe to their patients trips to Tyrol to help with respiration and general health. Even after spending just a day there we could see why.
Then we made a quick trip into Italy and the dolomite mountains and found some nice spots for a few photos, and managed to find an Italian harlequin train.
On our return to Worthersee, we made a trip to the Pyramidkogel a tower above the highest point near the lake. The vantage point gives great views of the lake and the surrounding area. We also hit all the favorite spots upon return – Velden, Faakarsee, Sheifling am see, Reifnitz and of course the Mischkulnig Eni station for another wash.
Of course, our return was just in time for the actual GTI Treffen event in Reifnitz, which meant bigger crowds, pop-up bars, and the official VW display was in full swing. Running the course of 3 days, the official event takes over the town of Reifnitz turning every street, parking lot and lawn in the town into a car show area.
Even with a show of this size, cruising is still an important part of the proceedings. The streets are filled with modified VWs and Audis creating what amounts to a show car traffic jam. Its something that is understood by all, even if it takes an hour to go 3 blocks.
We chose to sit back and have a beer and watch the proceedings for a while.
Super clean Mk2s are a regular occurrence at the show, but this one really caught our attention.
Back at Faakersee there was a new group of amazing cars – as there always are, day in, day out for the duration of the show.
There are so many quality built cars around that its easy to become desensitized to how well put together they are. There are so many more that we just simply forgot to take pictures of because it becomes almost normal.
Since 2016 marks the 40 anniversary of the GTI it was a special year for the GTI Treffen display. With original examples of the Mk1 GTI to the new Clubsport and Clubsport S, they had special versions of each generation available to view. The VW apprentice team also did a special GTI “Heartbeat” edition for the show. And of course they had to show off their racing heritage with the Polo WRC car as well as the new Golf TCR series racer.
What was even more exciting was that VW was calling on stage special customer owned cars. Each owner drove their car onstage and were interviewed by the German Playboy model running the show.
We were beyond proud when Jamie managed to get the harlequin on stage on the second day. Seeing a car that we had a hand in putting together rolling out onto a stage and promoted by VW itself is something we will never forget.
It was an added honor when VW decided to include the car in their official video of the event (most of the video is in German but there are subtitles):
Alas, all good things must come to an end, and our time at Worthersee had run out. Since we had to get the harlequin and VWs passat back to England, we still had a trip across most of western Europe ahead of us. Along the way we decided to make a stop and spend a day in Paris.
On foot or via bike, we managed to see most of the important sights in Paris in the 12 hours we were there – The Eiffel Tower, The Arc de Triumph, Moulan Rouge, the Louvre, and Notre Dame among others. I don’t think its possible to pack more sightseeing into that amount of time.
After a day in Paris, we went straight to Calais and the ferry back to England. We had some time to kill, so some re-packing and goofing off happened while we waited. But soon enough we were back on the ferry for a late-night trip back to England.
Arriving back on English shores some time around 2 am, we then made our way into the English countryside. Jamie already had a buyer for the harlequin and the last excursion of our journey was to sell Harley and say goodbye. Meeting the buyer at an industrial estate in the proverbial “middle of nowhere” we hung out and talked cars while the deal was being done. It wasn’t until the early morning hours that everything was completed, and as you can see from this last picture of the harlequin, with the sun coming up and all of us beyond tired after traveling for roughly 36 hours with little sleep, even the pictures were blurry.
With the harlequin now sold, all that was left was for us to re-pack our belongings into Mr Si Gray’s caddy van and ride to the airport. It was the end of an epic road trip, one I will certainly never forget. If you’ve read this far, I hope you have enjoyed the journey as well. Safe travels.