Bugs, Beetles and New Beetles, as far as the eye can see. Many of them lovingly decorated. Smurfs and other cuddly toys adorn the interior, whilst the exterior is covered in an abundance of stickers and even complete foil applications. The Beetle community itself is as colourful as its vehicles. Free spirits, representatives from many independent professions, and a high number of women are in attendance, as well as young couples and copious families, of course. This close-knit community usually meets once a year in the Lübeck district of Travemünde. Since 2004, fans have been meeting in a field on the beachfront to celebrate the Beetle, and each other, too.
The New Beetle celebrates its twentieth birthday in Wolfsburg
This year, the twentieth birthday of the New Beetle was the main focus of the event. The likeable Volkswagen now officially qualifies as a modern classic, and is well on its way to becoming a true classic car. The production model made its debut in January 1998 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. At the same time, "Beetle Mania" began, turning the car into a timeless lifestyle icon. For this reason, the organisers gladly accepted the invitation from Volkswagen, to bring the Beetle Sunshine Tour to Wolfsburg this year.
Last weekend, the festival grounds at Brügmanngarten in Travemünde were casually swapped for a car park in the Autostadt, and the Mittelland Canal, the waterway immediately in front of the Volkswagen Group's headquarters, did its best to stand in for the Baltic Sea. However, the participants were compensated with a truly spectacular highlight: at 12 pm, a rare 1950 Hebmüller Cabrio lead a convoy of more than 200 Beetles, New Beetles and Bugs through the factory grounds.
But before they have even left the grounds of the Autostadt, the Beetles came to a stop for the very first time, much to the delight of the crowds of visitors, who quickly whipped out their phones and cameras to record this rare sight.
The convoy makes its way onto the factory grounds via a fire service access road, and circles the power plant with its four distinctive chimneys before cruising along Südstrasse between the Mittelland Canal and the famous, long brick façade of the main plant towards the Markenhochhaus (Brand Tower).
A truly special route all in all, since parts of the factory and the entire Brand Tower are classified as historical monuments. The convoy returns back towards the Autostadt along Mittelstrasse, a street usually used by Volkswagen employees flocking to their posts, or huge trucks making just-in-time deliveries of parts to the production line. Despite the late summer sun, visitors in their saloons and cabriolets feel goose bumps prickle their skin. Conversations fall silent, or continue at a reverent whisper at most. Only few participants had ever been so close to the birthplace of the original Beetle.
The birthday party gets going.
Back at the festival area, the party to honour the New Beetle's twentieth birthday is in full swing. The food trucks, which include converted first and second generation campervans, stay true to the event's theme and are packed tight. And of course, it's not a party without Volkswagen's most famous Genuine Part. The currywurst team have their work cut out for them. Many of the participants are only now meeting each other properly for the first time, and right away you feel like you're a guest at a real family get-together.
Everywhere you look you see friendly, laughing faces, lots of hugs and the sheer joy of being reunited. Music is playing in the background, broken up by games on the stage. Several Beetle fans, for instance, are trying their hand at a Formula 1 Golf tournament, the aim of which is to hit a little rubber Beetle into a tyre lying a few meters away. Everyone's talking shop about their cars and the English couple from Nottingham with the longest return journey at 1100 km receive a hearty pat on the back.
The New Beetle "Cup Version", a true member of the Sander family
One particular eye-catcher on the festival grounds is the Sander family's blue New Beetle "Cup Version". Father Thorsten, was repeatedly asked to explain the history of his son Jannik's car, as the latter was unfortunately unable to attend the event. While a much younger Beetle fan took a long look at the 6-cylinder engine of the former race car, Sander casts his mind back to his first year in the Sales department of Volkswagen Motorsport in Hannover. His son had visited him regularly at the Beetle Cup race tracks since the age of eight, and had developed a deep passion for motorsport over the years. Of course, when the opportunity arose to secure the newest existing model of the racing series Beetle for the family, he seized it with both hands. Since then he's restored it to its 2002 glory, including decals with the number and advertisements that adorned it during its one and only racing outing.
As the evening draws in, it's time for a recap of the day. Gaby Kraft, the founder and organiser of the Beetle Sunshine Tour recalls, "I'd bought a Beetle myself in 2004 and asked myself, am I the only one so in love with this car? Surely there are others! So we decided to organise a get-together". And the rest is history. Kraft is excited that the 15th Beetle Sunshine Tour has turned into this family-friendly outing, "Here in Wolfsburg, with the factory and the towers of the Autostadt, I feel something indescribable. It's very different to Travemünde, but it's simply fantastic!"