Of Autobahns and Country Roads

12 08 2013

Three weeks of vacation have come to an end. They started with a power weekend for Taiga Lily as she was booked as a wedding limousine in Stuttgart. Stuttgart is about 800 km from Berlin when driving via Marburg where I dropped of the dog with my parents for the weekend. With some stops along the way to fill up on petrol, coffee and food, to walk the doggy and to have dinner, the trip took me some long twelve hours. But the weather was great, traffic not too bad and Taiga Lily drove smoothly all the way, so I enjoyed the ride. The route took me through “Volkswagen country“, with VW production sites along the way in Hannover, Wolfsburg, Salzgitter and Kassel, and towards the end into the homelands of Mercedes and Porsche, Stuttgart and Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen. Pretty amazing how much richer Stuttgart looked compared to Berlin.

Taiga Lily all shiny and clean for the biog day in Stuttgart.

Taiga Lily all shiny and clean for the big day in Stuttgart.

Official maximum speed of the van is 127km/h (70 h.p. CJ engine), and given enough time to ramp up the speed she easily goes 120-125km/h – haven’t pushed her beyond that yet. But on those hot days, the top speed quickly went down to 90 or even 80 km/h as the engine temperate otherwise raised beyond 100°C. Air cooling comes to its limits when its 35 to 40°C in the shade. The new sliding window in the sliding door paid out massively – always a nice breeze on the backbench, no more problem with too much heat in the back as during last summer’s ride to the Czech Republic.
To spare the little one of at least part of the long rides, my lovely wife and wonder baby flew from Berlin into Stuttgart. The way back was then still a long five-hour-ride from Stuttgart to Marburg, some days spent in Marburg and then another eight-hour-trip for the last 465 km to Berlin.

VW Bus Fans - The Next Generation.

VW Bus Fan – Next Generation.

After the VW Bus festival and a week at home in Berlin, we spent the last week in a bungalow on a campsite in the Spreewald, 100 km southeast of Berlin. This time we deliberately avoided the Autobahns and went for the small country roads, both to get there and while exploring the environments. Amazing how much more pleasant it was to drive the old bus at 60 to 80km/h through the forests instead of racing her at 100km/h over Autobahns. Probably this is more the speed for which these buses were designed in the late sixties. Now the holidays are over and it is back to work – what a shame.

Our dog enjoying the prime seat on the porta potti box...

Our dog enjoying the prime seat on the porta potti box…

Back streets in the Spreewald region southeast of Berlin.

Country road in the Spreewald region southeast of Berlin.

Tatra Mountains, 1972

1 05 2013

Look what I found! I stumbled over my own baby photo album when I unpacked our moving boxes and found this photo. Skiing holiday in the Tatra mountains in Slovakia (at the time Czechoslovakia). Probably taken in 1972 when I was about three years old. It could be that my uncle, the gentleman on the left, carries me in the backpack, but I am not sure. My parents borrowed the van from a friend in my hometown Marburg. It’s an early bay/T2a which in 1972 must have been almost brand new. No further details visible under all the snow, except perhaps for the plaid curtains which could be one of the Westfalia materials. I actually have some very early childhood memories of this trip. Mainly that on the way back to Germany a stone shattered the windscreen and we had to ride a long distance in below zero temperatures, tightly wrapped up in blankets.
This will be the last winter post for this year. Spring has finally hit Berlin with full swing and I will free Taiga Lily from her winter garage tomorrow. More soon!


New Video for Bright Blue World

1 03 2013

There is a new video of Courtney Leigh Heins on Youtube, performing one of the songs from her new album for the Park City TV from the Sundance Film Festival last month. Our New Zealand kombi cover photo gets some nice screen time as well, but mainly it’s a great song. So here is some more promotion, from the proud photographer, for the new album. Go and have a look!

Screen shot taken from Courtney’s video by Park City TV, Sundance Film Festival 2013 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BI8o11dzADE)

Screen shot taken from Courtney’s video by Park City TV, Sundance Film Festival 2013 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BI8o11dzADE)

Our New Zealand Camper on a CD Cover!

25 02 2013

One of our photos from last year’s trip through New Zealand has just made it onto a CD cover! The bright blue campervan “Number 5” from Classic Campers now graces the cover of the new CD “Bright Blue World” by Courtney Leigh Heins, a singer/songwriter from Los Angeles. Courtney found the photo on my Flickr photo stream, fell in love with it and asked me whether she could use it for the cover, which I gladly agreed to.
The kombi, a 1975 late bay Devon camper, was parked on a rest site along the Summit Road on the Akaroa peninsula on the South island, overlooking the bay formed by an old volcanic crater. Here is the link to the Akaroa blog post and to the complete New Zealand road trip. The original photo is from the NZ album on my Flickr photo stream. Check out Courtney’s new CD – great music! You can find a video of one of the songs on the CD, “We were young”, on YouTube.

Now Courtney generously sent me several CDs and I’d like to give five away to readers of Campervancrazy. If you’d like a copy, please say so in the comments below!



Travelling the Czech Republic (Part Two)

22 08 2012

We took our one week in the Czech Republic easy and were not too busy doing touristy things. But it did turn out that the small town next door, Český Krumlov (German: Böhmisch Krumau), was quite an impressive view and worth having a closer look. I had never heard of it before, but it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and you understand why when you see the set-up of the town. The old town is nestled into an almost 360° turn of the Vltava river and overshadowed by an unusually large fortress/castle structure high up on a rock rising steeply on the outer side of the river. The architecture in the Old Town is a mix of medieval/gothic, baroque and renaissance, so there must have been some wealth in this town over a very long period of time. We also visited a beautiful museum for the painter Egon Schiele who had lived and worked here in the early 20th century.

Viaduct connecting two parts of the castle in Ceske Krumlov.

Part of the Castle above Ceske Krumlov.

Market Square.

Aerial View of Ceske Krumlov.

Taiga Lily at the Viaduct of Ceske Krumlov Castle.

We visited Český Krumlov twice, then did a day trip to České Budějovice (German: Böhmisch Budweis), a small town with a less spectacular but still lovely renaissance / baroque town center and the Budweiser Budvar Brewery. And otherwise spent several days at the hotel, doing not much and playing with the kids. On Sunday we made the long ride back. It took us again around 9 to 10 hours for the now 540 km. The day was probably the hottest of this summer, with temperatures around 34°C in the shade and 46°C on the road as signs along the way pointed out. Not so good when you need this air to cool down an air-cooled engine. We had to slow down to 85-90 km/h for most of the way to keep the engine temperature below or at 100°C.

Having a Budweiser at the market square of Budweis/České Budějovice.

On The Road in the Czech Republic

13 08 2012

We decided quite spontaneously to join friends on a week of holidays in the Czech Republic. So we all hopped on the bus yesterday and went southwards. We had a moment of worry when at a rest place smoke was coming out of the air inlets in the back. Turned out the wax sealing pumped into the frame around the engine three months ago now had started to melt, and some wax had probably dropped onto hot exhaust parts and started smoking. Somehow the smoke had gone into the air vents and then came out of the fan of the old aditional petrol heating system, in the engine bay. It all stopped when we drove a little slower (90 to 100 km/h instead of 105 to 115 km/h) where the engine temperature was more around 80 to 90 than 100°C. We passed the German-Czech border after 240 km and 3.5 hours from Berlin. The border is fully open and we only had to stop for a moment to buy a vignette for the Czech highways. A fantastic sunny summer day, but again a bit of a stressful ride, with the baby not being too happy to sit in her capsule for hours, and still no window in the back that can be opened. We reached Prague after five hours and about 350 km. We noticed a bit too late that Google Maps was taking us actually through the Old Town of Prague and not around via the ring road. On the plus side we got a first view of the beautiful city of Prague on a sunny early summer evening. After about nine hours and 540 km we arrived in Kaplice, near České Budějovice/Budweis (where the Budweiser Budvar beer comes from) and already close to the Czech-Austrian border. Hotel Zamicek is a restored large villa originally built as the estate of a German industrialist at the turn of the 19th century. It is about two kilometers outside Kaplice, in a forest-covered and hilly region of South Bohemia. This morning we had a first nice walk with three kids and two dogs along the creek which passes the hotel. All quite lovely and relaxing.

Taiga Lily proudly carrying her new Czech Autobahn Vignette

Hotel Zamecek, an old villa in Kaplice in South Bohemia.

Leon enjoying the summer.

Kiwi Kombis – Another NZ Rental Company

9 05 2012

When you are a kombi nerd and plan your visit to New Zealand, there is a second rental company that will provide you with a proper Volkswagen campervan: In addition to Classic Campers in Auckland which we rented our 1975 T2b Campervan from in February, there is Kiwi Kombis, also based in Auckland. We met a British couple in Akaroa with a T2b campervan which was Van Nine from Kiwi Kombis. We realized later that we had already bumped into one of their vehicles, a beautiful 1962 T1 campervan which I blogged about in Feb and which later turned out to be their Van Five, called ‘Coffee ‘n’ Cream’. For their fleet of beautiful buses (5 T1s and 4 T2s), check out www.kiwikombis.com. As I understand, with both companies you can also pick up their buses in Christchurch and drive them up to Auckland. If you are still open whether you want tour NZ from Auckland to Christchurch or the other way around, it makes sense to contact these two companies. Most likely there will be better deals where they give you a bus a little cheaper because you transfer it in a direction that fits with their planning.

Like Father, Like Daughter

27 03 2012

Catch them while they are young! Happy older kombi fanatic with happy young VW fan. Photo taken some two months ago in Wellington, New Zealand. Greetings to Nicole – your lovely baby shoes in action!

Travelling with a baby in a campervan

17 03 2012

We are back in Berlin, after three months of travelling in Australia and New Zealand. All made possible by the generous German parental leave laws and our gorgeous baby daughter who was three months old when we started and has now just turned 6 months. To make the trip a bit easier for her, we had split the flights from Germany to Australia with a two-day stopover in Singapore on both ways. In total we travelled about 41.000 km: 500 km by rental car and train from Berlin to Frankfurt, with a stopover in Marburg to drop off our doggy and say good bye to the grand parents. Then 10.250 km in an Airbus A380-800 to Singapore, a further 6.000 km in a Boing 777-300 to Melbourne, later 2.600 km from Melbourne to Auckland, 2.400 km in a campervan in New Zealand, 2.400 km from Christchurch back to Melbourne and 16.750 km for the return trip from Melbourne via Singapore, Frankfurt and Marburg to Berlin. 41.000 km is about the distance once around the world, so New Zealand really seems to be at the other end of the world from a German point of view (also 12 hours time difference).
Now here are a few afterthoughts about our campervan trip through New Zealand: Our rental van, a 1975 Devon camper conversion from Classic Campers, came with the standard 1600 cc boxer engine, upgraded with an electronic ignition kit. The average fuel consumption over 2400 km was 12.7 L/100km (18.5 mpg), and we needed to refill only about 0.75L of oil (20W-50). I guess these are pretty good values for such an old engine. Below is a snapshot of the little motor. Based on the VW engine letter code AE, VW built this engine into kombis only in 1971. So it seems the original motor of our 1975 bus was at some point replaced by this AE motor. Below is also a snapshot of the beautifully minimalistic dashboard of this right hand drive T2b bus.

Our campervan and our route through the North and South Island of New Zealand.

The air-cooled 1600 cc flat four boxer engine of our van (AE motor).

Minimalistic dashboard of a 1975 VW campervan.

Travelling with a baby turned out to be more challenging than we had expected. My wife and I have been travelling in a similar VW bus for eleven years, but putting a baby in the equation made everything a bit more difficult. Admittedly, this is certainly also true for our life at home in Berlin, now with a baby. In the bus it took us some days to develop our daily routines around the little one. The driving itself was good when we timed our start with the end of her first playing phase and the beginning of her first nap. The baby capsule we got from Classic Campers was attached to the back bench via a base fixed with a 2-point-safety belt and worked well. Travelling with the baby just meant later starts in the morning, more breaks along the way for playing and feeding, and occasionally one of us travelling in the back to entertain her during longer drives. Obviously there is no separate bed room where we could put her asleep in the evening. We solved this after a few days by placing her bed onto the central kitchen block and securing it with elastic straps to the ceiling. We then built a tent-like structure around it, either from two large towels or an extra blanket, which provided her with some darkness while we had the rest of the evening for ourselves.

Baby bed on kitchen block, fixed to the roof.

Baby bed wrapped up in mosquito netting and with towels arranged around it to keep the light out in the evening.

In retrospect, a wider bed would have been nice because the mornings usually started with the little one waking up early and having some play time with us in bed. In this particular campervan conversion, the bed was narrowed by the sink unit. The next project with Taiga Lily, our bus in Berlin, will be to fit in a similar rock-and-roll bench/bed combination and I will make sure it will span the complete width of the bus. Now it is time to get back to everyday life in Berlin – with getting back to work next Monday (though only part time till our daughter will be one, in September), and with getting back to our bus, Taiga Lily, and the next steps towards making her a functional camping vehicle.

The South Island (IV): Akaroa and Christchurch

22 02 2012

The small village of Akaroa was originally founded by French settlers in 1840. They were too late to claim the South Island for France as the British had arrived just a few days before on another part of the island. Today, many street names and shop names still are French. We began the day with a croissant in a café at the bay, then started the steep ascent to the Summit Road which runs along the edge of the volcanic crater that formed the peninsula. Our Lonely Planet travel guide called this route “absurdly beautiful” and that actually summed it up pretty well. We were lucky with yet another summer day with clear blue sky and admired the views from this fantastic narrow and windy road. After a coffee break at a picnic site, we completed the circle around the volcano and headed down and north towards Christchurch.

View from caravan park to Akaroa village and harbor.

Panorama view from Summit Road onto Akaroa Bay.

Road sign at Summit Road.

Narrow Summit Road along the edge of the volvanic crater.

Coffee break in the mountains.

Sheep above Akaroa bay.

Christchurch was hit by probably the worst earth quake in its history on February 22, 2011, so exactly one year ago to this day. When we arrived five days ago we were not really sure what to expect. The suburb that housed our caravan park, about 5 km outside the town center, at first sight showed no damages. When we drove into the town center the next day, the closer we got there the more damages were noticeable – houses and whole blocks fenced off due to risk of collapsing. Chimneys and stone decorations on roof tops broken off, roofs preliminarily fixed with tarps or zinc panels. We then realized that basically the complete central business district (CBD) was blocked for the public. Beyond the fences the former major shopping streets looked like a ghost town. Outside the blocked center, a preliminary new business center has been set up in a small container town – an initiative called ReStart, designed by architects and sponsored by many larger companies, which provides new premises to the businesses that cannot reach their original buildings anymore. But also in areas further away from the fully closed part of the CBD, access to many buildings is still blocked. We learnt later that in the CBD alone 500 buildings have been demolished so far because they were beyond repair, and another 700 buildings still have to be taken down. Only then work will start in the residential areas around the town center where an estimated 12.000 houses will have to be demolished. Thousands of people had to leave their houses, and in many cases new houses cannot be built on the old blocks of land because these areas are now considered not safe enough with respect to future earthquakes. So a lot of people are still living in provisionary housings, one year after the catastrophe. We left with a very sad feeling for the people of Christchurch, wishing them all the best for the future

ReStart - new provisionary commercial center built from containers.

Map of Christchurch city center, with area inaccessible due to earthquake damages marked in red. On the right, view eastwards into fenced off part of Cashel Street, corner of Colombo Street.

Christchurch Art Centre with attached metal braces as preliminary stabilization, and top of tower taken down and placed on pavement to prevent collapsing during aftershocks.

Signs on doors of buildings still standing but not safe enough to be used,

Damaged building in Gloucester Street, just beyond the fence, with heavy metal braces installed to stabilze it.

Our route in yellow, with places where we stayed for the night as yellow circles.


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