Bonn · Very few drivers get to sit at the wheel like Christoph Nettekoven. Even at five degrees Celsius, he lets his left arm hang out of the driver's window and caresses the chromed side mirror at every red traffic light. During sightseeing tours through Bonn, he takes guests to places in his van that tourists do not see on conventional bus tours.
Very few drivers get to sit at the wheel like Christoph Nettekoven. Even at five degrees Celsius, he lets his left arm hang out of the driver's window and caresses the chromed side mirror at every red traffic light. The relationship withhis old VW bus is a special one.
Nettekoven, himself „built“ in 1953, once drove through Morocco with such a model. "I was what we now call a hippie," he says. The T1 „Bulli“ he’s showing now, built in 1966, was driven as an export car through the USA. During sightseeing tours through Bonn, he takes guests to places in his van that tourists do not see on conventional bus tours.
There is almost nothing that can stop Nettekoven and his bus. The eight-seater fits through the alleys of the old town, can turn around in the narrow spaces between the old buildings of the Südstadt and stop at the roadside without paralysing all the traffic. Even the bollards of the city of Bonn are no obstacle. "Normal cars can't get through, but the ‚Bulli‘ is much narrower," says Nettekoven as he manoeuvers his way through the grey poles at the Old Town Hall.
And suddenly the turquoise-blue bus stands next to coffee-drinking students and a young mother with a pram waiting at the pedestrian lights by red light. Anyone else would have probably drawn angry or at least annoyed glances. The „Bulli“, on the other hand, brings a smile to people's faces. Compliments ensue: "Beautiful car!", "May I come with you?" or "I always wanted one like this". "It's a vehicle that still has character.
When you stand in front of it, the big round headlights make you laugh," says Nettekoven. But in order for the car to be able to roll through Bonn, he had to invest a lot. After it was imported from the USA, it was extensively restored. In the driveway of a relative in Endenich, he worked for months on the VW bus, always under observation of passers-by and neighbours. "But what I did was partly amateurish," Nettekoven admits.
Friesen then switches to accent-free English.
So the turquoise-white seats could certainly have been covered more true to the original or the curtains could have been sewn cleaner. "But I did it myself." He sounds proud. Nettekoven tried to preserve as much patina as possible – not only for money reasons but because a perfectionist revision commissioned can quickly cost tens of thousands of Euro. "You can see the car's history the way it is now," he says.
On the dashboard there is a faded badge with a dove of peace. The worn handholds bear witness to wild journeys and adventurous stories. All these stories can be heard from Nettekoven, like those from the big demos in the 1980s in Bonn's Hofgarten. "There was something mad going on, 300,000 people, but hardly any policemen. It's hard to imagine."
Daniel Friesen also makes sure that you can imagine what once happened in Bonn. With "Bonn City Tours", the historian has been offering tourist tours for some time –but now also on Nettekoven's passenger seat. "In the beginning we did it for a donation, but it wasn't economical," he says. It takes two to three hours all over the federal city. When the car rolls over the cobblestones, the music is either turned up or he has to speak louder. Above all, international guests are very interested.
Friesen then switches to accent-free English. But the real unique selling point is the folding roof of the „Bulli", which makes it so rare and sought-after. The model is now worth around 100,000 Euro. "In the cherry blossom season, the convertible is especially great," says Friesen, who then gets many inquiries from Asian tourists. Even in winter, when it gets too cold for an open top, the guests want it. Like so much with the „Bulli“, there is a pragmatic solution: Warm blankets are always on board and – a hot drink.
Info:The classic Volkswagen buses are called „Bulli“ in Germany as a combination of the words „Bus“ and „Lieferwagen“ (delivery van) - showing the two strong talents of this neat little vintage vehicle.
Original text: Nicolas Ottersbach
Translation: Mareike Graepel