Gearing up for Oktoberfest

Boutique beer-loving locals are regularly surprised to learn just how well known the long-standing Paulaner brand is internationally. Now producing at an industrial scale, the company has made a name for itself well beyond the annual Oktoberfest hype and is representing the fine art of Bavarian brewing in over 70 countries around the world.

Located at the heart of Munich “am Nockherberg”, the company has been operating from the same facility since 1634 – making it the only local brewery to never move from its original location. But the tradition is about to be broken. Now surrounded by the town’s ever-sprawling CBD, room is becoming too tight for Paulaner to expand – forcing it to relinquish its home site and move to new premises on the outskirts of the bustling Bavarian capital.

Physically moving a century-old brewery won’t be a walk in the park though, especially since tradition is weighing heavily on the new management team. To ensure the brand’s story of success will not be cut short, it therefore planned each step of the process with great thought, care and consideration, saying it won’t be before 2016 that each item on the extensive to-do list will be ticked off.

The biggest challenge yet, according to Paulaner, has been handling the giant stainless steel fermentation tanks that were ordered for the new site. 87 of them will be used to meet the growing global demand for Bavarian beer, helping the brewery put out several million litres of beer every day once the new operation is fully functional.

Designed and built in the north of Bavaria, each container had to be shipped to the inland port of Kelheim before it could be moved on the road to the new Paulaner plant outside Munich, a job that took up most of the second half of 2014.

The company that made it all happen is Stuttgart-based Hermann Paule GmbH. A long-time affiliate of globally renowned tank manufacturer Ziemann and trusted heavy haulage specialist, it was tasked with ensuring that each fermentation tank would arrive in Munich before Christmas.

One reason why Paule won the contract in the first place is the company’s unique trailer fleet. According to Managing Director Rainer Schmid, Paule can boast a set of highly customised low loaders that are unlike most of the heavy transport equipment currently registered in Germany. “There’s probably only three or four comparable trailers in all of Germany,” says Schmid. “Our equipment is extremely light but can still handle heavy cargo. They don’t build them like this anymore, it’s all becoming too bulky lately.”

Schmid explains that Paule’s Hubkesselbrücken can be lifted up to a height of 150cm, allowing them to overcome obstacles like traffic islands with ease. What’s more, each trailer can be widened up to 4.5m and handle freight that it is more than 30m long.

With the entire combination adding up to about 50m in length, such a rig is “definitely no everyday occurrence” in densely populated Germany, says Schmid. “But if followed by a separate axle group at the far end, it can achieve the extremely tight curve radii needed to navigate rural towns, which are often not laid out for heavy cargo coming through.”

According to Schmid, that’s also why his low loader fleet was perfectly equipped for the Paulaner job – not because the tanks are particularly heavy, but because they are plain huge. “With each weighing in at about 25 tonnes, it’s their length and size that make them hard to handle,” he says, revealing that in order to avoid low-hanging bridges, the Paule team had to use back roads that cut right through the picturesque Bavarian countryside. “Each tank measured between 5.5 and seven metres in diameter, so you don’t want to get stuck somewhere,” he says.

Looking back, Schmid is convinced that “jobs like this” are unique to central Europe and much more demanding than a comparable delivery in Alaska, Siberia or the Australian outback. All up, it took the team 18 months to research possible routes and pre-plan the transport. To begin with, every single curve radius along the way had to be calculated to make sure the route chosen would accommodate a heavy truck. But even then, Paule still had to go back to the client and ask them a very special favour – modifying the cargo itself. The radii of the tanks, for example, were chosen as a compromise to allow for safe highway transportation, as was the final shape of each vessel, which was mainly chosen to ensure no power line had to be taken off the grid during transit.

While a temporary power cut is generally possible for ‘abnormal’ transports in Germany, 87 of them would have stretched the public’s patience too far, says Schmid. “Keeping residents, communities and authorities happy is key for the success of such a project, so there was a lot of talking involved.”

Yet even with all the talking done and all approvals obtained, there was still a lot of groundwork to be done before the first tank could be delivered. Schmid says many a garden fence had to be permanently removed, power lines had to be relocated and traffic signs had to be placed in flexible steel brackets for the crew to be able to quickly take them down. What’s more, Paule set up hundreds of new no-parking zones to clear the way and even rented out several acres of grassland to build their own, makeshift gravel roads.

In late summer 2014, the first 177km trek was completed in two stages, supported by a four-axle heavy-duty truck, a back up truck, several staff vehicles and the local police. After that, Paule carried out two moves a week for a three-month period, starting at 7pm in Kelheim for a 3am arrival in Munich two days later.

According to Schmid, it was “fascinating” to see the Paule team laying the foundation for the historic Paulaner move by handling every 36-metre combination like a common hatchback. Three of the company’s most experienced drivers were put on the job to ensure maximum safety, he says, with many of the younger drivers referring to them as the ‘dentures crew’ for the duration of the project.

While Schmid is quick to point out his team could “bear a joke or two”, he also says that for a job where millimetres count, experience is priceless and should be rewarded. “Being able to maintain such a high level of concentration over eight or nine hours, in the dark, is a real art form.” He even allowed the team a celebratory beer at the end of each journey – even though it wasn’t from Munich after all.

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