Book Tip | Bulli Love – The Call of Freedom

1966 Volkswagen T1 Bus Bulli Love (1)

Schauinsland mountain rises high above the Black Forest just outside of Freiburg. The Vosges Mountains and even the Swiss Alps can be seen from here. The peak is a popular jump-off point for paragliders. Peter Vaas, however, sometimes just likes to circle around above the small red-white dot on the ground – the vehicle that brought him up the mountain: his beloved red-and-white T1

Freiburg im Breisgau – the Old Town. Tyres can be heard softly tapping on old cobblestones. A 1966 tornado-red/cream-white T1 gently comes to a stop in front of us, right opposite Zum Roten Bären, Germany’s oldest inn. Peter Vaas, a man as versatile as a Swiss army knife, jumps out of the bus. There’s nothing this man cannot do – nothing he hasn’t done, or at least hasn’t tried to do once. Indeed, he’s led a many faceted life, but one thing has remained constant: his Bulli. As he drives us up one of the most beautiful serpentine roads in the Black Forest, all the way up to Schauinsland mountain, Vaas, whom his friends call “Pit”, tells us about his interests and his vehicle. The vehicle, a Bulli T1, carries the equipment on its roof that brings Vaas to the mountain on a regular basis: a paraglider. When our photographer, Theo, and I entered the bus, the springs in the seat upholstery immediately gave way, causing us to sink down deep: the Bulli feeling had begun.

Vaas’s first encounter with a Volkswagen Type 2 dates back to his childhood, he tells us as we rattle through the Swabian Gate in Freiburg. “My grandfather had a T1 bus that he used as a delivery vehicle for our printing business”, Vaas explains. “I thought it was fantastic and would sit in the passenger seat as often as possible.” At some point, Grandpa Vaas wanted his grandson to take over the family business. Vaas was only 22 at the time. Although he was a trained book and offset printer himself, he couldn’t imagine spending his days in an office and assuming responsibility for 120 employees at that age – even with that T1 standing enticingly in the company parking lot.

1966 Volkswagen T1 Bus Bulli Love (7)

Bulli Love – A roundabout route to the T1

Instead, he wished to – had to – pursue his powerful desire to simply be free. He wasn’t sure what form this freedom would take; he assumed he would find out in due course. One of the first things he did was design an indoor rock climbing centre, which he then built with friends. The facility in Satteldorf became Germany’s first indoor playground for adults and even attracted professionals such as the extreme rock climber Stefan Glowacz, who would later offer courses at the centre. Vaas then switched from rock climbing to motorbiking and entered various endurance and trial competitions. “It was all rather extreme in some ways”, he says. “With a lot of these guys, it was like they were battling with knives in their teeth. I wasn’t interested in anything that brutal, so I finally decided to do four-hour races.” During this time, he repaired heavy motorbikes to finance his racing hobby. “But after I started my own family, it all became too much for me”, Vaas explains.

We now pass the station in the valley for the Schauinsland cable car. Vaas points to a small field of grass behind the local playground. This is where he and other paragliders land safely – with a group of little fans cheering them on behind a fence. The plan is for us to pick him up there later – after he’s done circling around in the sky. But first we need to get to the top of the mountain that looms ahead. Despite its relatively weak 54-hp engine, the T1 bravely handles the curves on the way up and makes the climb with no apparent problems. Our ears begin to pop, but the rumbling of the 1500 engine seems to amplify even more inside our bodies.

Vaas now sounds like he’s talking through a giant wad of cotton as he explains to us how he went from motorcycles to paragliders. The explanation is quite simple: “by way of the water”, he says, and then describes how he once went whitewater rafting when he was 12 and the river he was on seemed to stand still for a moment. It was then that young Pit saw a paraglider artfully floating and turning in the sky. “He seemed to possess such lightness and style as he flew above us – it was simply splendid!”, the Bulli aficionado recalls. “I wanted to do that too at some point.” It seems quite logical in retrospect: from land to water and then to the air! Vaas’s to-do list thus came to include obtaining a paragliding 40 licence from the DHV hang-gliding and paragliding association in Germany. Later, of course, he got himself a licence as a paragliding instructor as well.

1966 Volkswagen T1 Bus Bulli Love (3)

A short time after that, Vaas went to work for an air-taxi company in Austria that brought people down from mountains into the valley. He also taught gliding on the side – one of his students was actually an 80-year-old nun. “She probably wanted to get a little closer to God”, Vaas says with a twinkle in his eye as he guides the Bulli through a hairpin turn and shifts down a gear. Downshifting – now that’s something Vaas also knows about: despite his love of flying, he avoids getting too close to God too fast. “A couple of years ago, the doctors said I might have suffered a heart attack, so I take things easier now”, he says. “I try to give myself and my employees the day off on Friday”, he adds. Here, Vaas is referring to the people who work at the small gardening company he now operates. “I want to be around to watch my kids grow up, after all”, he explains, “so I usually only fly on Fridays. The Bulli is a big help – it’s the most beautiful form of taking it slowly!”

It was Vaas’s wife, Susanne, who suggested buying a Bulli. Vaas himself had previously had only bad memories of the Type 2 Volkswagen. That’s because a night drive he took with such a bus when he was 20 nearly cost him his life: he was driving a T2 one wintry evening when he lost control of the vehicle in a sharp turn and ended up on a frozen lake. Fortunately, a thick sheet of ice kept him and the Bulli from sinking completely; they were only half submerged in the lake. Vaas escaped the icy trap by climbing out of the rear hatch. He walked to the nearest farm house, woke up the farmer and asked for help. In his mind, he could see the T2 sinking deeper and deeper into the lake. Luckily, another farmer had the equipment needed to safely pull the Bulli out of the water. Vaas and his Bulli were then reunited on dry ground.

The T2 actually started up – but the accelerator cable was frozen at full throttle. Vaas then tried to turn the ignition key to the off position at the first traffic light he came to, but it didn’t work. He was determined to go home, however, and he probably got there faster than ever before, as he sped to his house and then pulled on the parking brake to bring the T2 to a halt in the gravel in his front yard. The next day, he worked on the lines that had completely frozen overnight. He and his sister tried to salvage what they could using a hair dryer. All their efforts were in vain, however – the damage was simply too great and the T2 had to be junked.

1966 Volkswagen T1 Bus Bulli Love (4)

Bulli Love – Come let us fly!

Vaas met his wife, Susanne, 11 years later. Their love for one another also led to a sort of rebirth of Vaas’s long-forgotten passion for Bullis. It turned out that Susanne had owned a Samba when she was a student in Freiburg. She later had to get rid of it for financial reasons, but she still missed it a lot. “Don’t be sad; you’ll get another one sometime”, Vaas told his wife. He then promised to find her a Bulli.

As Vaas tells his story, we keep climbing higher and higher up the serpentine road in the Black Forest. The reflecting directional arrows at the edge of the road have a pale appearance. It’s getting colder, and we now see remnants of the snow that fell here in the winter. Vaas continues with his story as the small toy ducks suspended from his rearview mirror sway back and forth. He comes to the part where they finally found their Bulli. After they got married, they went camping but forgot to take a gas canister with them. That’s how they found their T1 Bulli, whose friendly face stared out at them from a solitary parking space at the camping equipment store. It had a faded tornado-red/cream-white body colour, and grass was growing out of its interior. Not the type that is smoked, but the type that is pulled as weeds. “Apparently, the Bulli had been through a lot”, Vaas explains. “You wouldn’t have known it at first, but it had previously been used by the fire department. Two students later bought it from the fire brigade and converted it. They put the wrong roof on it, however, so I had it replaced with an original roof. Besides that, I only customised the interior to make it more practical for me and my family – basically, I turned the Bulli into a motor home.” He did all of this with his own two hands, of course.

Vaas now slows down the Bulli and brings it to a stop in a parking area. This is where the T1 climb ends and the flying begins. Vaas puts on his backpack and steps over a guardrail. A few metres further we come to an open space between the trees. Vaas spreads out his glider, quickly checks the thermal updraft and fastens himself into the loops. His rate of descent indicator beeps softly. The atmospheric inversion he was hoping for has arrived: an easterly wind. He’s now ready to take off. He runs up ahead to fill the glider’s wings with enough air and then jumps straight off the cliff. For a second we think he’s in a dive, but just as quickly he reappears in front of us. He uses the updraft to fly in circles. As we watch him, we wonder whether it’s the flying that marks the highlight of his trip up the mountain with his Bulli – the backdrop of mountains such as Mont Blanc in the distance. Or perhaps the highlight is afterwards, when he starts the T1’s engine, puts his hands on the old steering wheel and heads home down the mountain to his family – to his wife, Susanne, his children, Jannis and Anna and his dogs, Lilly and Paula.

1966 Volkswagen T1 Bus Bulli Love (5)

The rate of descent indicator beeps, the tornado-red dot is waiting

Vaas turn his circles way up in the sky, the tornado-red dot is waiting. He could go anywhere, but he chooses to circle above the small tornadored/ cream-white dot on the ground. It’s as if he’s connected to it by an invisible rope. Pit Vaas and his Bulli: together forever.

1966 Volkswagen T1 Bus Bulli Love (6)

„The Call of Freedom “ was published in the book Bulli Love by Edwin Baaske at Delius Klasing. Numerous other exciting, varied and not least emotional stories from all over the world can be found in this picture and story book for every Bulli fan to read, laugh and dream about.

Edwin Baaske: Bulli Love, Delius Klasing, Bielefeld 2015

Bulli Love Delius Klasing Cover

1. Edition 2015
ISBN-10: ‎ 3667103034
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-3667103031

Bulli Love is available at your local bookshop or directly at Amazon.

Text Bastian Fuhrmann Photos Theodor Barth

Author: Delius Klasing

Delius Klasing is one of the leading special interest publishers in Europe. Founded in Berlin in 1911, the company with the current headquarters in Bielefeld can look back on more than a century of publishing history. The available program includes around 1300 book titles, with around 120 new publications added every year.

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