The Journey of a Lifetime
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the whole world changed. This moment in history was particularly momentous for two Germans. When the wall came down, former airline executive Gunther and his wife Christine left their homeland to embark on an 18-month trip around Africa in their 1988 Mercedes G-Wagen. They became addicted to travel, covering more and more ground as they went. Now Holtorf has been driving for 24 years.
Christine passed away in 2010, but at her behest Gunther has carried on driving, and has now visited 221 countries. The veteran traveller is now 76 years old, and has seen more of the world than most of us could begin to imagine. He has ticked off an impressive number of travel destinations across the globe, including Brazil, Paris, Mount Everest, Cuba, Northern Iraq (during the war), Hollywood, Kazakhstan, Albuquerque, the Caribbean and large swathes of Africa, totalling over half a million miles.
Holtorf attributes much of his success to his trusted diesel Mercedes, nicknamed ‘Otto’. He has lived in Otto for 24 years, and says that the reliable old traveller has never broken down in a way that Gunther couldn’t fix on the spot. Otto is kept constantly overloaded with 1,100 pounds of equipment and genuine Mercedes parts, so that nothing can come between the weathered old duo and their travels.
A Covert Expedition
Remarkably, Holtorf has conducted his trip entirely under the radar, without a single press clipping and no coverage at all until 2012, when the BBC posted a video of his journey. The 76-year-old has extensively documented his trip with two Leica film cameras, creating a fascinating diary of 24 years on the road.
Gunther’s travels tend to be simple, and he doesn’t announce his plans on any websites as kidnapping is a real threat in the places that he travels to. He has never taken sponsorship, either, as plastering his car like a Formula One vehicle would make him an obvious target for anyone bent on villainy.
Gunther’s trips have been entirely self-funded. Most of the money travellers spend goes on restaurants and hotels, so Holtorf has kitted Otto out with cooking and sleeping facilities, allowing him to spend his money on fuel and shipping the car around the world.
A Well-Earned Retirement
Gunther hasn’t finished yet. Before she died, Christine made him promise to finish the trip for her, and the veteran explorer is determined to stay true to his word. “What I am doing now is keeping the promise which I have given to my wife, and finishing the tour on behalf of my wife.” He will bring the journey to a close by visiting the few countries that he hasn’t yet seen, such as Myanmar.
Gunther will retire from his travels in July or August of this year, and plans to leave Otto to rest in the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart. It’s hard to think of anyone more deserving of a relaxing retirement than these two far-roaming travellers.