Camping: How Vacation in Caravans Became a Mass Movement

Home » world » Camping: How Vacation in Caravans Became a Mass Movement January 8, 2022

Ein “Wohnauto”, that is what landscape painter Fridel Edelmann had longed for. A car “in which we could drive together and I could paint, that would be the right thing for us,” she wrote in 1930 to her future husband, Arist Dethleffs.

The Allgäu entrepreneur and caravan pioneer, who was keen to travel, already had the first sketches of a caravan with a lifting roof in his desk. A year later he built the first caravan in Germany. His “Wohnauto” was the first caravan that a German manufacturer produced in series.

Another caravan pioneer was Hans Berger, who built his first caravan in 1935. His “household”, as he called it, consisted of a frame made of ash wood strips and silver folding boat skin; at the holiday resort it could be unfolded like a fan. “Our own house, our own stove, our own bed is ready everywhere in three seconds”, advertised the inventor of Germany’s first folding caravan.

Today folding caravans are trendy again. But also pop-top caravans, teardrop trailers or mobile homes with an alcove structure above the driver’s cab. It has never been more popular to take a vacation with a motorhome. More than 100,000 new leisure vehicles were registered nationwide in 2020 alone. It is the tenth record year in a row. Caravanning travelers bring sales of 15 billion euros to German holiday destinations. The corona pandemic has fueled being on the move because you can move around relatively free of infection.

How vacation in the caravan became fashionable

In the history of camping, there have been plenty of reasons and motives for a holiday in a caravan. The authors Christian Steiger and Thomas Wirth have in their new volume “In the world on the move. The history of caravanning ”(Verlag Delius Klasing) competently followed up traveling on wheels, with entertaining texts and with more than 300 historical photos of caravans, campers and mobile homes.

1976: The Hymermobil 521 had the first lowerable double bed and plenty of space for dining

Source: Hymer

Her book leads back to the first German campers who – at that time still non-motorized – pitched their tents in nature around 1900. It was early hippies who had had enough of the drill of the empire. “Outside, nobody tells them what to do or what not to do,” says the book. The camping pioneers called themselves migrating birds. On rivers they met canoeists who found it too stuffy to sleep in the inn.

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Camping: How Vacation in Caravans Became a Mass Movement

As you turn the page, you learn that “motorized hiking” started in England, France and the USA in the 1920s, earlier than in Germany. Henry Ford’s T-Model was the first affordable car for everyone. On this basis, the first mobile holiday homes were built in the USA: fragile constructions made of wood, like a closet on wheels.

Camping became a mass movement

In post-war Germany, mass motorization began with the VW Beetle, which soon pulled the first caravans across the Alps – such as the Bürstner Dolphin, a lightweight 380 kilograms.

Camping: How Vacation in Caravans Became a Mass Movement

Across the Alps at walking pace: a VW Beetle pulls the 380 kg light, brakeless Bürstner caravan Delphin, around 1960

Source: Bürstner / Delius Klasing Verlag

Popular: the “car bed” by Helmut Wilk. With his tents, which could be erected on common vehicles, the insurance agent quickly became the market leader and millionaire. The Westfalia company made the VW Bulli habitable. Even on the popular Lake Garda there was always a place to be, on the wide beaches of the Adriatic and Riviera anyway.

Camping became a mass movement in the 1960s; one had to move closer together in the squares. In 1962, the growing industry hosted the Caravan Salon for the first time. 61 exhibitors with 250 companions showed the latest trends in Essen. Today the world’s largest camping fair is held in Düsseldorf.

Expensive RVs and full campsites

But what makes camping so attractive then and now? Fans of hotels and holiday apartments find it difficult to understand how one voluntarily surrenders oneself to one’s neighbors in a meadow – separated only by a plastic wall. You have to like this closeness, and also the daily spectacle when the people next to you pull their chemical toilets behind you on the way to the sanitary area.

Camping has long ceased to be cheap. The modern luxury companions shown in the book testify to this. A nine-meter-long Morelo motorhome for 250,000 euros is still considered a middle class. Even classics like a Hymer, Dethleffs or Carthago cost a lot of money if they are properly equipped. The campsite operators also want to earn money, 60 euros per night are no longer uncommon.

Camping holidays become a luxury pleasure

The corona pandemic caused a real caravan boom. But this turns the camping holiday into a luxury pleasure, because the vehicles cost more and more. You can now marvel at the innovations at the Düsseldorf Caravan Salon.

Source: WELT / Gerrit Seebald

In order to revive the caravanning idea of ​​freedom, new formats are developing beyond the overcrowded campsites. “Landvergnügen”, for example, offers parking spaces on farms and wineries as an alternative, there are now over 1,300. “Stadt Land Bus Camping” arranges different types of pitches, “Look at the country” is the name of camping-friendly organic farms in Austria.

Camper sharing has also become popular: Why buy an expensive motorhome when you can borrow it? So the caravanning boom is likely to continue. But often there will be no way around the full campsite, at least in the high season. So being constantly on the move is linked to the eternal longing that the next place should be even more beautiful.

Christian Steiger, Thomas Wirth: “Out and about around the world. The history of caravanning ”, Verlag Delius Klasing, 296 pages, 39.90 euros.

-> Luxury on the campsite:

Since the times of the pandemic, camping has also been popular with those who have not found this form of travel so cool before. Keeping your distance is easier outside. At the same time, however, the desire for more luxury is growing among the eleven million German campers. The camping operators have adjusted to this; they can be rated like hotels with stars.

To this end, the ADAC sends its inspectors to more than 5000 campsites across Europe every year to check the quality. In 2022, the number of luxury providers will increase by 21 percent: there are now 158 five-star courses, they resemble chic holiday villages, with wellness, sports courses, restaurants, animation and fun pools, some with riding stables, vinotheque and golf course. The number of four-star places has risen to 1,373 providers.

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Camping: How Vacation in Caravans Became a Mass Movement

But it can be even more luxurious. There are now the first campsites that have individual baths built on the individual parcels so that vacationers can stay to themselves. Like Esterel Caravaning on the French Riviera: The “Palace De Luxe” pitch has a whirlpool and a private bathroom, including a dishwasher and washing machine, right next to the caravan. A night for two people is available from 130 euros in summer.

The Danish Hvidbjerg-Strand-Campingresort on the North Sea also offers such “XL luxury pitches” with their own bathroom and whirlpool. If you want to park your caravan there, you pay in the high season from 206 euros for two people – per night. kir

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