If Gunther Holtorf had a lengthy career with Lufthansa beginning in 1958, in 1989, he left his job to take an on-the-road journey.
Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the man and his wife Christine left for a 26-year road trip through 179 countries along 550,000 miles (885,139 km). The couple had originally planned to spend only 18 months outside their Germany, to visit the African countryside in his on their Mercedes-Benz 1988 G-Wagen nicknamed “Otto”, but that one-and-a-half year leisure time has at the end turned into a pilgrimage perpetual, interrupted only by a few rest periods. Without sponsorships, advertising, or the exhibitionism that such a journey would have today, the couple traveled purely for leisure, determined to see much of the world.
For over two decades, Gunther and Christine have lived inside and outside their car driving in incredible situations across six continents. “Otto” took them to extraordinary places like the sand dunes of the Sahara, rural villages in Kenya, but also on the streets of Paris, among the ancient Buddhist temples of China, in war zones in Iraq and even in a nation normally forbidden to foreigners. In some countries Otto was the first personal car permitted belonging to a foreigner, and Gunther was the first Westerner to drive in North Korea.
For the first five years, Gunther and his companion traveled through Africa, thereafter shipping the car to South America to continue their journeys there. Through subsequent years, they traveled upwards through Central America, the United States and Canada before traveling south again and shipping the car to Australia and Asia and through the Caribbean and into other regions of the world.
They traveled inexpensively, avoiding hotels and sleeping in the car, from which the rear seats were removed, or in hammocks pitched near it, while for meals they relied on the gas stove. The shower was a bottle of water hooked out of the car, and modern luxuries have been completely forgotten. Gunther states, about his life: “The more you travel, the more you realize how little you have seen. And the more we see, we experience, the more we want to continue to see and continue to live“.
Christine died in 2010, but Gunther continued to travel also for her, a trip to even more countries with a picture of his dead wife hanging on his rearview mirror. The man’s long journey has ended in 2014, and Gunther has finally returned to his home in Berlin.
Otto, his faithful car that has never broken even on the most demanding roads, rest in the Mercedes museum in Stuttgart. “When people compliment me, I say it’s Otto who has the merits, and the sturdiness and reliability of this car is absolutely amazing.”