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Beetles fans have a ticket to ride
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German Richard Hausmann could never have imagined how challenging a drive to his Beijing office could be.

He felt the breeze from Bavaria, soaked in the grand scenery of the Siberia Plains and ate the dust of the Gobi Dessert, all from behind the wheel of a humble little VW Beetle.

The 60-year-old car was part of a fleet of four classic vehicles, which traveled 11,000 km in the Erlangen-Beijing Vintage Volkswagen Challenge 2009.

"The experience is just unbelievable," says Hausmann, president and CEO of Siemens China. "What makes me more thrilled is that my beetle celebrates its 60th anniversary here, together with the People's Republic of China and the Republic of Germany."

As a fan of classic Beetles, Hausmann had the idea of driving from Germany to Beijing three years ago.

He found several vintage car fans in Germany and they got a start from Schlossplatz in Erlangen on July 30.


Richard Hausmann with his 60-year-old VW Beetle. Together they covered 11,000 km in the Erlangen-Beijing Vintage Volkswagen Challenge 2009. [China Daily]

Over the past four weeks, participants drove along the Siberia Railway, crossed Poland, Lithuania, Russia and Mongolia.

"Nothing is more fulfilling than making dreams into reality," he says.

"It is admirable to have courage and determination along the way. I feel touched and also envious of them."

Michael Schaefer, Germany's Ambassador to China, welcomed the dust-covered drivers at the finish line. The group was then greeted with flowers, hugs and kisses from families, colleagues and friends, and of course, a nice mug of German beer.

Hausmann's wife Anna says her husband phoned home everyday to keep the family informed of difficulties, challenges and interesting discoveries on the road.

Husmann's two sons now take a great interest in the places and stories they heard over the phone in the past month.

"However, it takes much passion and persistence to travel a long distance with an old car. We might just fly there," Moritz Hausmann says.

Fellow driver Bernd Ohnesorge, 40, says passion and persistence were vital for anybody contemplating such a fantastic journey.

"It was raining heavily when we were crossing the Gobi Dessert," he says.

"We didn't know what would happen ahead of us, and the road conditions were just bad. But there was one simple thought in our mind that we should do our best to reach the destination."

He felt the group was very lucky because no one fell sick and the vintage cars crossed the finish line in one piece.

The long journey also posed a challenge to the oldest participant Rainer Diehl, 62, who has taken part in the rallies around Australia and Indonesia.

One day in Russia, the team had to drive 17 hours in order to fulfil its daily distance quota and it was the longest drive he had ever done.

"I got tired and was frustrated sometimes, but the rally was definitely an invaluable once in a life-time experience," he says.

"We supported and helped each other which made us a strong team."

Most of the time, the drivers motored through sparsely populated areas and encountered little traffic so when they arrived in Beijing, the capital's traffic was a little overwhelming for some.

Alexander Appleton, 19, had driven through deserts and plains but thought driving in Beijing posed the biggest challenge.

"I kept sweating," he says.

"I must look very carefully and be alert all the time.

"There are many cars on the road, and amazingly, drivers are rather skilled in making quick adjustments."

It was also Appleton's first visit to China while other participants have worked in China or visited here several years ago.

"The destination is impressive. It's worth a long and hard journey," he says and is now planning to visit other Chinese cities.

As for Hausmann, he will be in office in Beijing after only a day's break.

"The journey is like recreation for me. Although we had to handle all kinds of emergencies and problems, that's the spirit of traveling," he says.

(China Daily September 2, 2009)

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