Travel Book: Around the World in a Kombi

26 02 2015

There is a kombi travel book that just stepped into my life for a second time in 20 years. It is the German book “Im VW-Bus um die Erde” (Around the World in a VW Bus) from Sigrid and Wil Tondok, first published in 1977. It starts with the actual travel report – quoting from the introduction: “five continents, six oceans, 49 countries, 250 000 km, highest height: 4.800 m (Peru), lowest point: 120 m below sea level (USA), 2 exchanged gear boxes, 3 exchanged engines, 16 brake pads, 18 shock absorbers, 36 tires, 85 flat tires, one accident, one attack, one war, one broken leg, one break-in, many insights”. The original early bay high roof bus used for all these adventures and shown on the book cover below was later donated to the German Museum in Munich (not sure whether on display or in storage at this moment in time).

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After the travel report comes a section on travel tips and recommendations, and finally one third of the book on how to rebuild a late bay window VW bus into a campervan, with many plans on how to build the bed, storage space and kitchen section. This became something like a bible when in 1995 I bought and started rebuilding our Old Lady, an empty 1978 VW panel van. At that time one could not buy the book anymore and hunting for second hand books on Amazon was still far away. I remember that I finally found a copy in the public library in Dortmund in 1996 and photocopied the complete book to have it as a guide for building the Old Lady. Now, twenty years later, an old friend contacted me and asked whether I was interested in this book – she had just found it amongst the books of her brother who had passed away many years ago and way too young. So now I am sitting here with an original copy in my hands, of the fourth edition from 1981.
Her brother had in some ways been like a big brother to me when I bought the Old Lady. An electrician by trade and generally a very gifted craftsman, he had helped me to install a radio, extra fog lights, additional high beams, and additional instruments for battery and oil temperature. He welded a rusted through section (under the passenger seat) and helped me to clean and repaint the underbody, using his pressure washer and lifting platform. He re-built an original VW bus main light pull switch into a two-step fog light switch (front and rear) which served me well for 15 years and is still installed in the Old Lady. Thank you, Anke, for sending the book to me. And it is an honor to receive this book of yours, Holger. So sad that we did not have more time together. You would have enjoyed what a kombi nerd I have turned into over the last 20 years. And I could have done with much more advice and help from you over those years. Thank you for all the help you gave me.

PS: Today, the authors run their own publishing company for travel books which started with this book, “Im VW Bus um die Erde”. And while the book is not in print anymore, they were generous enough to make the complete sixth edition from 1989 available in the web! How amazing is that! This edition also includes rebuilding recommendations for the T3 VW bus from the 1980s.





Summer Camping Weekend

8 08 2014

Berlin is famous for the many lakes in its backlands, and on a beautiful summer weekend in July we packed our camping gear and headed north, with the general aim of Bernsteinsee (lake amber) in the Schorfheide nature reserve. Realized again we should do this much more often – just 1-2 hours out of Berlin and one is out of the big city and quickly in holiday mode. We ended up on a campsite on Ruehlesee, just next to Bernsteinsee: Beautiful low-key campsite in a pine tree forest with its own lake. The backlands of Berlin all belong to former East Germany, and 24 years after re-unification it seems the camp sites are often still run in a different way to West Germany: Lots of space, landscape mostly left untouched, everything a bit low key, but the necessary facilities in place and very friendly and unpretentious people. This one comes with its own diving school, and a cable waterski facility on an adjacent second lake – not really our thing, but amusing to watch for a while. In addition to their German web site I found this English site, both also a bit out-dated.
Thanks to Wikipedia I’ve just learnt that parts of the Schorfheide nature reserve are actually a UNESCO listed world heritage: Protected since 2011 as one of the last surviving ancient beech forests that probably covered most of middle Europe some long time ago. It is also home to the lesser spotted eagle, which we actually saw when we meandered through the forests on the way back to Berlin!

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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!

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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!

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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.








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