“Mercedes Man” Travels Around North Korea and Parts of Asia

Courtesy+of+BBC
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“Mercedes Man” Travels Around North Korea and Parts of Asia

Courtesy of BBC

Courtesy of BBC

Courtesy of BBC

Courtesy of BBC

Sam H. '17, Reporter

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You may think you know what travel is, but you have got a whole other thing coming if you have not heard of Mercedes Man. Gunther Holtorf, 76, is called the Mercedes Man because he has been traveling the world in his 1998 Mercedes G-wagon, named Otto, for the better part of 23 years. He has visited 215 countries which includes, 172 sovereign countries, 17 dependent territories, six special territories and five de-facto states. Holtorf never stayed in hotels, he lived out of his car, Otto. Otto has over 549,292 miles and received nothing more than small dents after 23 years of travel with Gunther Holtorf and his wife Christine.

After going through Africa and nearly all of the Americas, Holtorf realized that he was missing the Asian influences in his trips. So immediately he began making plans for his next great adventure, Asia.

Oddly enough, one of the main things Gunther Holtorf had been working on during his time as boss of the air transport division of Hapag Lloyd and Lufthansa’s head of Indonesia was a map of Jakarta. Now in 1973, a map of Jakarta would be particularly hard to come by because there were no street signs anywhere in the city. While Holtorf was stationed in Jakarta, if he wanted someone to come to his house, he would have to sketch his home’s location or give a driver a very detailed and specific directions. After three years of hard work, Holtorf published the first map of Jakarta in 1977.
The first country Holtorf visited in Asia and his 100th overall was Kazakhstan. Otto’s odometer reached 311,000 miles while they passes the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan. Holtorf, Otto, and Christine made their way to Afghanistan where they spent ten days. The stopped in Tajikistan and made their way through Kabul where Holtorf says, “You could smell the tense situation in Kabul.” Mercedes Man and company then exited through Khyber Pass.

Christine died in June 2010 and two months after her funeral, Holtorf and Christine’s son, Martin, left to visit Sri Lanka, China, and North Korea. For this trip to happen, Holtorf had to get outside help to organize it. Mercedes Benz was the main contributor to his cause because the company realized in 2004 that Otto was a great marketing campaign for the G-Wagon model. The company helped Holtorf get a special policy on his car insurance, which was a worldwide third-party insurance.

Holtorf never truly wanted to be sponsored by anyone because he felt travel is “the perfect freedom- to go where you want, when you want- not to be steered one way or the other.” But the paperwork to get into China, not even including all the paperwork to even be allowed to drive from province to province, would take over two months plus because each province needs a permit, the government needs a visa, and he had to arrange for an escort and an escort car. Mercedes paid for the mounting costs of the trip knowing one day that China would become one of Mercedes biggest Markets. Holtorf and Martin then spent three months in China even braving a very cold night at an Everest base camp.

To get into North Korea, Holtorf had to contact the German Government to get permission to drive through the off limits land. The German ambassador to Pyongyang sent a note to the North Korean foreign ministry which was responded to for five months. Shortly after the North Korean foreign ministry contacted the German ambassador, Holtorf and son were told that trip was on.

One of the most important details of their trip was that their itinerary could not be altered at any point after their arrival. The first part of the trip was just getting the car to North Korea. The plan was for Otto to cross from the Chinese port of Dalian, to Nampo in north Korea, But as soon as Otto cleared Chinese customs, which took a whopping three days, Holtorf and Martin were told that only Otto could cross and not them.

Oddly it the North Korean foreign ministry fixed the problem. The North Korean ambassador to Beijing requested special permission for Holtorf and Martin, German citizens, to board and come to Nampo. Because they arrived three days late to North Korea, their ship did not dock until 1:00 a.m. and Mercedes Man and co. were told that they must leave by 8:00 a.m. form the port.

It was arranged that no cars were to be on the roads in Pyongyang while Otto was driving around the city. Holtorf remembers the trip to North Korea as his most expensive trip and it camp to a grand total of $6,135.

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