MB1019 Overland Camper

Hello, I’m Berta, the 3rd family member

MB1019 in 3 stages

Berta: as we got her – just after picking up the shelter – and finished

Why “Berta”? That’s what’s written on my number plates [BER TA 13], and that’s what Juergen and Yasha call me, so I take it as my new name. Remember that famous cannon, The Big Berta, feared during WWII. Well, I don’t look anything like her! Okay, Juergen helped it along a bit by asking for suitable and available number plate combinations, and BER was a given by the town I’m registered in: Bernau near Berlin. (Berta is how the Germans write my name, in English it would be “Bertha” – I might accept that as my name, too.)

Anyhow, I’m a lady just entering my best years. I was born in the early summer of 1981 in a factory owned by Mercedes-Benz. My early years were mostly restful, only interspersed with some adventure and drama every now and then, as I served as a fire engine in the town of Helmstedt in Germany. When I see other trucks my age, all beaten up, dented and rusty, I think I had a good youth because, at the fire department, I lived in a cosy garage, got washed and pampered regularly, and didn’t have that much work to do.

When I was sold to the next owner in 2010, I had just over 23,000 kilometers on my counter and looked pretty much like this . But boy, then came a couple of very sad years! The guy stripped me down, basically ripped my “raison d’etre” off my back (the box with all the fire fighting equipment) and let me stand out in the weather all year round. Later he even took my comfy shoes away and replaced them with some unfitting over-seized coarse rubber treads. They didn’t fit me at all. I tried to explain this by grinding metal on rubber every time I had to turn, but did he care? No! He took a hammer and angle grinder to force me into shape. Those were some sad years…

Then in the summer of 2012 I was suddenly loaded up with a spare tire on my bare frame and driven 200 kilometers further into the north of Germany. There they stripped even more off me – my tank and the heavy winch I had carried all my life – and then mounted a strange looking shiny steel frame on my back and a large 350 liter tank in place of my original 120 liter tank. I had hardly any time to contemplate all this before somebody else came and drove me almost all the way to Frankfurt, where he placed a strange looking camouflaged box onto the shiny galvanised steel frame.

That’s how I met Juergen the first time. I actually enjoyed the freedom of the highway, finally being able to drive again. And I drove through some regions of Germany I had never been to before. But it didn’t last long! The very next day we rushed east and, as soon as we reached the outskirts of Berlin, I was more or less condemned to stand around again.

At least for a while there was something for me to watch, as Juergen got busy emptying the shelter (that’s the name of the box, because I overheard people say that it used to be an army shelter) and cutting rectangular holes into the outside of it, only to fill the holes afterwards with a door and some windows. I had never had windows, except in my drivers cab…

Cleaning shelter, adding windows & closing backdoor

cleaning shelter, adding windows & closing backdoor

Then everything stopped abruptly and I was left shivering through a cold and snowy winter. But soon after the first warming rays of spring sun had woken me from my miserable winter sleep, Juergen turned up again! Such a traitor to leave me alone all winter. This time he brought Yasha with him and, as soon as the last snow had melted, they moved me in front of the garage (they had such a small garage that I couldn’t squeeze in, even without the box on my back) and started to work on and in the box on my back again.

It was kind of interesting to watch them for a while, but boy did they take their time! Sometime in the middle of summer, they took the box off my back. One of their friends came with a crane and they parked us side by side in the yard. Then they started to paint the box (finally the ugly camouflage was gone – I had always thought that it didn’t match my nice fire engine red!). Then, for some weird reason, they made more and more holes in the box, laid solar panels on the roof, and kept themselves busy carrying bits of timber, large and small, in and out of the box. And then more bits of timber, and more, back and forth, so finally I lost track, but I believe they managed to fill up a good part of inside with wood and other stuff.

Shelter: painting, installing solar, and more external work

Shelter: painting, installing solar, and more external work

By the end of summer I was shaken from my half-sleep and taken for few short drives again. First into the south of Berlin, where some guy attached another weird looking frame right on my bum (I tell you, you don’t want to see that in broad daylight), and then to another small workshop where finally somebody took the horrible over-seized wheels of my feet. Oh, was I excited: I got brand new wheels, four on my feet, and another two to carry along on that strange frame on my bum. But I tell you, they feel so much better: with them I can run uphill again (that didn’t go well at all with the other over-seized monsters). I keep up with most other trucks on the open road, and they are much quieter and more comfortable to drive with, too! I wonder what other surprises Yasha and Juergen have for me. Could I now go on a long drive with these beautiful new wheels?

No, I had to go back to the yard and stand for countless days more next to the box and watch Yasha and Juergen run back and forth between the garage and it with bits of timber and small and large cardboard boxes. How can they take this long? And what are they doing? After all, the shelter is only 4.2 by 2.2 meters. Usually if you load something that small, it shouldn’t take more than half a day…

the furnishing inside the shelter

the furnishing inside the shelter

It got cold again and the two were still busy, and as the days were short they worked into the night with lights on. But I could see through the large side window that things were slowly taking some shape; I could see a kitchen with a sink and oven, a bench seat right by the window, a bed in the back, cables and pipes first hanging around everywhere then getting connected, finally a table went in (and out again to be painted), and at some stage around Christmas a lot of things were moving fairly quickly because they had prepared a lot in the heated garage (and had left me in the cold). In between I sometimes heard noise of power tools and Juergen swearing about one thing or another – but they really seemed to be making some progress now.

They were actually rather lucky. Most of the winter was fairly mild, and often sunny; nothing compared with the winter before, so they kept working day in, day out, until suddenly, in mid-January it got really freezing cold and they stayed in the garage almost all day. In the middle of this, some of their friends turned up, inspected me and the shelter, ah-ed and oh-ed a fair bit, got cold sleeping in their camper van over night – and left as suddenly as they had appeared. Soon afterwards Yasha was gone too. Now what? Couldn’t they work together any more, was our joint future doomed?

I sat a few days in despair until the next weekend when the guy with the crane turned up again. He carefully manoeuvered the shelter back onto my back, and then and there I felt it: they had actually built a fair bit into it as it wasn’t as light as before! From then on, things actually moved fairly quickly: first Juergen connected gas and waste water, mounted some protectors around my very exposed tail lights, and a week later he put another set of number plates onto me. Yippee, I knew what that meant: driving again!

The next day we left early in the morning to go to a guy who inspected my gas installation, then to some scales to check my new weight (~7,750 kilograms – phew, I can carry much more, 12,000 kilograms is my permitted total weight). The same afternoon, I drove Juergen and his friend Cornelius to Dekra in Oranienburg (another town I’ve never been to). That’s where they inspect vehicles and decide if they are road-worthy. And what shall I tell you: I presented my best and passed with honours! Juergen received one or two compliments for their work too, so maybe the long time they had spent wasn’t that unproductive after all… The very next day I was “christened” and received my current plates BER TA 13.

Soon after that, I was spoiled even more; I received an oil change, lube, and small service. Then things got rather hectic. Juergen still had to finish some cupboard doors, Hartmut (their friend I met in January) turned up again and installed some suspension seats and a radio console in my front cab, a scissor ladder was fitted to the shelter, and 1,000 other little bit and pieces had to be finished. Then Juergen started to run between house and the shelter, carrying boxes with stuff: he was packing me up! Time was racing and, within a couple of days, I was driven to Hamburg. It was early April 2014 – almost 2 years since this new adventure had started for me. In Hamburg I was put onto a biiiig ship, with 1,000s of other vehicles, to go on a journey to South America. And that’s where I am now, reunited with Yasha and Juergen.
Goody, there’s an entire new continent for me to explore!

NEXT PAGE: technical data and more photos

23 Responses

  1. Blue Wings says:

    We saw in Itamambuca…. You’ ve been our neighbours!!! Aloha, Blue Wings.

  2. Elena says:

    Hi, Jurgen and Yasha. It’s all started with your comment on our Montevideo street art pic on Instagram that mentioned that you also have some Uruguayan street art photos. Out of curiosity I decided to check; found your blog and almost forgot what I was going to do. Wow, it is so cool what you are doing! Berta is awesome, and I can imagine how much fun she (and, of course, you ;) ) is having in South America. I wish that one day we could do something like this. Perhaps, when satellite internet finally becomes affordable reality… Meanwhile, we perpetually slow travel around the world but constrained by internet connection necessity. Meanwhile, I am looking forward reading about your adventures. Cheers!

    • Yasha says:

      Hi Elena. It all actually started when I read your post on ‘free for all Friday’ that you had just begun on Instagram! I’m so glad you got lost in our site – it’s why we do it. We want to inspire people by the way we travel. We would appreciate it if you shared some of our stuff around with other people who might enjoy it and don’t know about us yet. I do love the fact that the internet brings the travel community together in so many different ways. Your use of ‘slow travel’ has piqued my interest – I’m off to check out your blog now.

  3. Peter says:

    Truck looks perfect. As I´m looking at geting an MB firetruck could you give some info on the transformation from dual-rims to singles, type and cost of rims, and tires.


    • Juergen says:

      Hi, Peter. Whatever size you choose you will need tires which take the extra weight on a single wheel. Depending on your choice of vehicle (8 hole or 10 hole rims, size of wheel arches) you will have more (or less) sizes to choose from. Most commonly people, who want to go on real world wide travel, decide on standard trailer tires because they are more widely available in different countries than odd military sized tires. We have 385/65 22.5 on rims with ET120 (that’s the size of the lip which holds the rubber inside the metal rim). Expect to pay €350-600 per tire, plus just under €100 per rim.
      A German website, Pistenkuh , once published a comprehensive article on tire choice.

  4. Marcelo Tassara says:

    Hi there,

    Congratulations on your trips. I’ve seen Berta parked on Quintay beach in Central Chile, stop to say Hi and check on your truck but unfortunately you we not in. Amazing truck.

    Hope to see you again. Have a nice trip in Chile


    • Juergen says:

      Thanks for the kind words. I guess I was actually there – next time don’t be shy and knock on the door… I would have loved to meet you ;)

  5. Logan Orndorff says:

    VERY impressive! I’m looking forward to your planned detailed posts on how to build a travel vehicle. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Michelle says:

    I am so impressed with your hard work and creativity. I’m sure that you inspired many to build their own mobile hotel. Truly fascinating post!

    • Juergen says:

      Thank you – blush… I’m slowly realising that we should turn our knowledge into a more detailled series of posts on how to build a travel vehicle.

  7. What a totally unique and amazing way to travel~

  8. Wow; how fascinating to meet Berta!! I am sure she is going to enjoy her second career as a travel bloggers’ haven!

  9. Cute story. Oh, if my VW bus could talk!–the one I drove around the U.S. in the 1960s. :)

  10. Wow, very cool! Feels kind of like we cheated with our little camper.

  11. Donna Janke says:

    What a fascinating story – transformation from fire engine to home on wheels told from the vehicle’s point of view. It must have been a lot of work, but the end result looks very comfortable.

  12. Donna Janke says:

    It was fascinating to read about the conversion from fire engine to home on wheels, especially from the point of view of the vehicle. It must have been a lot of work, but the end result looks comfortable.

  13. noel says:

    What a wonderful transformation and so well thought out, enjoyed seeing all the changes to your mobile hotel!

  14. Wow! What an undertaking and Bertha got an ocean cruise out of the deal, too! Amazing. Hope you are finding that living with her is as comfortable and secure as it looks.

    • Juergen says:

      Definitely secure, comfortable: well, a bit more space would be nice, but the ex-army shelter was all we could afford. A custom build camper box is about 10× the price ticket.

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