This past year has seen a change in my Fuhrpark, which is the German word for a fleet of vehicles. In reality I hardly have a fleet of vehicles, but I have gotten rid of a car and a scooter, and picked up a new (used) car as well as a pedelec, so it’s been an interesting time. This week it was the old East German scooter, the KR51 Schwalbe, that went to a new owner. The KR was an old 50cc vehicle I had restored for my daughter Helen a few years ago in the hopes that she would use it as a first step to riding a motorcycle. Although Helly did ride it a bit for a time, and learned how to shift gears and use the kick starter just like with a bigger bike, she never really took to riding the thing, and to be honest, an old 2-stroke smoker with mediocre brakes and a fiddly carburetor was perhaps not the ideal first vehicle. Sometimes it takes a while to realize the truth, even if, in the end, it served its purpose of familiarzing her with two-wheeled motorized transport. And the Schwalbe went to a good home, to a guy who grew up in East Germany and is going through a phase of Ostalgie, which means nostalgia for the “good old days in the East”. I wish him all the best with it!
We also got rid of our trusty old Toyota Matrix after 17 years. The last time it was inspected the mechanic said that due to some underbody rust, the car might not make it through the next inspection in two years time. The Matrix made me love Toyota vehicles, as it was the most reliable, practical car I’d ever owned, and apart from wear and tear, there was very little that needed to be done to the car to keep it on the road. The only problem we had with it was due to the fact that this model was never sold in Europe, so it was sometimes difficult to get parts for it. One time, for instance, a ferret decided to feast on several rubber hoses in the engine compartment, and it took awhile to replace them, as they had to come from Japan, China and Brazil, if I remember correctly. Ferrets sleeping in engine compartments of parked cars is a surprisingly common occurence here, especially during the colder months, and when one decides to make its home next to your engine, it can get expensive.
We initially thought we would keep the Matrix as long as possible, but when a family member offered us a low-mileage 2015 Mercedes Citan for a great price we decided to go for it. The Citan is really little more than a badge-engineered Renault Kangoo delivery van that Mercedes wanted for its customers who run fleets of vehicles, and it was just what we were looking for. With a 1.5-liter diesel engine that has been used in millions of other vehicles around the world, it’s very efficient, and with its particle filter is classed as Euro 6, so we can even drive in the car in Berlin’s low-emission zone. We debated the idea of not getting another car at all, as we don’t need one to get to work, but decided we weren’t quite ready to do without one yet. Even though the price of fuel has become prohibitively expensive this year, it’s still convenient to have a car when the weather gets bad or we want to pick up something bulky from the store. And we hope to turn the Citan into a part-time camper, as there are a variety of firms offering so-called “camping boxes” for these types of vehicles, which you can slide in and out of the back of the car as needed for camping trips (e.g. https://www.vacamod.de/kombivan/).
The Citan is a strange looking vehicle, to say the least, with perhaps a face only a mother could love. And the Mercedes star couldn’t be much bigger, could it? But it’s a fairly simple, straightforward vehicle that has tons of storage space and will hopefully get us from point A to B without too many problems for the foreseeable future.
The newest member of our vehicular family is a folding Zündapp pedelec that I purchased as a quick and easy way to get back and forth to work, and as a fun and energy efficient form of transportation. It’s definitely not a top-end e-bike, but seems solid and is a great way to get into the world of electric vehicles. It has an internal battery and a the motor is located in the rear hub, so you really get the feeling of being pushed forward, as if there is always a tailwind helping you along. It’s relatively light (for an e-bike) at 21 kilos and can easily be folded together and carried onto the train, giving me great flexibility when commuting. I put a larger front chain wheel on it, as well as a longer seat post and some additional lights, but otherwise I’ve left it as is. The only downside is its lack of disc brakes, which I now realize are very important on a pedelec, as I’m generally riding faster (max. of 25 kph) than I would be if I was providing all the power myself. But the little thing is really a blast to ride, and I can understand how people get hooked on them. I think e-bikes are a game-changer, as are electric vehicles in general, despite their present shortcomings (range, problems with lithium, etc.).