My Beetle and me: The story of a friendship
By Christoph Driessen Nov 17, 2011, 3:06 GMT
Berlin - When Martin Zinselmeyer speaks about his Beetle he doesn't discuss horsepower or fuel consumption, but rather feelings and smells. He recalls detecting the warm glow of an engine as a child and looking at the sky through the rear window when his mother visited his grandmother in the countryside.
He can describe how the car's imitation leather upholstery felt on hot sunny days and how his legs stuck to it. He's also quick to romanticize about what it was like to open the car door and be hit by the smell of faux leather and the horse hair stuffing in the seating.
Only a fan of the Volkswagen Beetle can talk about a car like Zinselmeyer.
Zinselmeyer, 45, is sitting in a cafe in the town of Orsoy in western Germany. On the other side of the River Rhine is the region's industrial heartland, but on Orsoy's side it's still pastoral countryside. Zinselmeyer's 1967 Fontana grey Beetle is parked outside the cafe with its shiny metallic paint and sparkling chrome. Sitting beside Zinselmeyer is his friend and former college mate, Juergen Siebers - also known as Kaefer Juergen, German for Beetle Juergen.
Both men are on their annual nostalgia trip, travelling a route that was recommended in the defunct motoring magazine, Gute Fahrt, in the 1960s. Along the way they're staying in hotels that existed at the time of the article's publication. 'Unfortunately every time we stop off we're confronted with the fact that the room rates of about 2.50 Deutsche Marks have gone up a bit.'
Zinselmeyer does not talk about his Beetle, but about Rexi. The name comes from the car's registration plate: RE-X-65. The car originated in the town of Recklinghausen and is in its 'unrestored original condition'.
It used to belong to an elderly woman who lived in Zinselmeyer's neighbourhood. One day he spoke to her at a gas station: 'If you ever decide to get rid of your car then tell me about it,' he told her.
A year later he got a call.
'I can remember how the car emerged from the garage on a wonderful sunny day. The car had not fully come out but I already knew I had to have her.' Zinselmeyer went on a test drive with the owner, and agreed to pay 4,000 Marks for it.
At one stage Siebers owned two Beetles, one from 1963 and the other from 1968, but when he became a father he had to sell them both. 'That was awful. It was like removing an organ from my body without using anaesthetic.' For years he had to make do with building a collection of 50 Beetle-related books and gathering memorabilia.
Since that time he's been regarded in his circle of Beetle enthusiasts as a walking encyclopaedia. But what use is all that knowledge when you don't have your own Beetle? Last year Siebers bought his own vehicle: A 1964 ruby red model with a sun roof. 'I couldn't resist having one. I was experiencing a lot of stress at work, felt a bit down and I needed something to re-energize myself.'
Just what is so special about the car? Zinselmeyer explains: 'You have to have driven a Beetle ... to know. You have to have rubbed a sponge over its contours. You cannot avoid feeling in awe of the car's design.'
For Siebers, his love of the Beetle is connected with his longing for a time that is now past. The Beetle symbolizes 'honest technology' for him. 'Other manufacturers kept bringing out new models every year that looked fresh on the outside but had the old technology under the hood. With the Beetle it's the opposite. Its exterior remained the same but what was inside was continually modernized.'
Fans of the Beetle often describe the car as a member of the family who just happens to live in the garage. Whenever Rexi is not feeling good, Zinselmeyer also feels down. 'For a while the engine was not working properly and that nearly drove me crazy. A car like a Beetle must run like a sewing machine. You can't live with anything else but that's the way it was for a while.'
The Rhine and Moselle river regions are the two most popular areas where Zinselmeyer and Siebers go on their annual outings. Sometimes they take along an old dictaphone to record impressions and car noises. They also need to bring a lead replacement for the fuel, something they're allowed to do as their Beetle is officially a classic car.
This year the two men are travelling around the lower Rhine region. Zinselmeyer sits behind the wheel and sinks into the upholstery as if he was in his armchair at home. Siebers is in the passenger seat and opens his copy of Gute Fahrt from April 1960 with its travel report from the lower Rhine. A minute later the distinctive sound of the Beetle's motor strikes up and the car disappears into the Rhineland countryside.