Bay Window Meeting

27 10 2015

Nice encounter on an autobahn rest place last August close to Leipzig: Early Bay window bus pulling up next to Taiga Lily. It is actually one of the hybrid buses from the transition phase between early and late bay, so from about 1971/1972: front still from the first generation (indicators down and front bumper ending in door steps), but the back already with the air intakes of the late bay (would be more crescent shaped for the pure early bays). I saw the silver T5 on the left only now when I prepared the photos. Would have been nice to take that one into the photo as well. Sorry to all T5 owners for my ignorance!



Family reunion with a kombi

25 10 2015

Family meeting mid-August 2015 in Ottenhausen in Thuringia (German: Thüringen), one of the Eastern German states. The grandchildren and great-grandchildren visit the village and house where our grandmother had arrived with her five children in 1945, as refugees from East Prussia. Good to be reminded of this family history today when another generation of refugees arrives in Germany, this time from Syria and other war zones of today’s world. At the time, my grandmother arrived as a single mum with five children between five and fifteen. My grandfather was killed in action in 1941. Ottenhausen was the end of a flight which had started at the end of January 1945 in their hometown of Rastenburg in the former East Prussia (today called Ketrzyn and located in northeastern Poland). They escaped from the Red Army which fought their way into Germany from the east, in the last months of WWII. At the time, Ottenhausen was occupied by the American Army. It turned out my grandmother had stopped a few kilometers too early, as in July 1945 this part of Thuringia was traded by the Americans to the Russians for a share of Berlin, so became part of East Germany for the next 45 years. Which meant another flight, in 1962, from East Germany to West Germany, again leaving everything behind. My grandmother managed the new start in 1945 because of the help and support from their new neighbors. Important to keep this family history in mind.


A new bus tent!

23 10 2015

With now two small kids, we decided the kombi alone would be too small for camping with the family. So we bought a very big new bus tent. The first camping trip in early August was a one week visit to our favorite local camp site (at Schwielochsee in the Spreewald, about 100 km south east of Berlin). The new tent (Reimo Tour Family Thermo) is huge and comes with two separate sleeping cabins. They fitted perfectly as parent’s and kid’s bedrooms. The bus is meant to park on the side so that one can enter the tent via the sliding door. But we used it this time as a stand-alone tent and used the kombi only for transportation. The weather was very hot, with temperatures touching 40°C, but it was a good break from everyday life. We should do this more often!



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).



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!




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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