Move to the country or go far away? Two years ago, when Ananda and Marco’s landlady terminated the lease on their apartment, they were faced with a dilemma: Finding a new place to live in Cologne is arduous and above all expensive. Generally: The principle of paying rent has seemed questionable to them for some time. Much more sensible would be a small house of one’s own in the country. But aren’t you then settling down? No, the cultural journalist and the photographer were still hungry for adventure. They made a decision: In a Unimog 1300 L they wanted to make distant places their new homes.
MYVAN: What made you give up your old life for the one in a van?
Ananda: It is unproductive for a journalist and a photographer to be “stuck” in a country. Nothing against our home country, we still find Germany very beautiful. But it is much more enriching for us personally to stay constantly in motion, to lead a life on the move and to just visit Germany from time to time to see family and friends.
MYVAN: Once the decision has been made, it is time to choose the right vehicle. Which characteristics were important to you?
Ananda: Our rolling home should take us everywhere: Deserts, snowy mountains, forests, jungles and hidden beaches. That’s why we were looking for a powerful four-wheel drive truck. The Unimog is almost perfect as an off-roader. Thanks to the special technology, it simply stops at nothing and is still particularly maneuverable for a truck. Another advantage: Due to its shape and its star, it is a real door opener. “Mercedes!” locals often shout up with their thumbs up.
MYVAN: Where did you find your Unimog and what condition was it in?
Marco: We bought the truck from a dealer who got it used from the military. It was built in 1987, at the end of the Cold War and retired in very good condition with only 70,000 kilometers. When we bought the Mercedes-Benz 1300 L, it was military green. We painted it gray and white so everyone knows we come in peace.
When we bought the Unimog, it was military green. We painted it gray and white so everyone knows, ‘We come in peace.’
MYVAN: The Unimog is primarily used as a commercial vehicle by the fire brigade and the Bundeswehr. How did you make your model habitable?
Ananda: We replaced the platform with a frame and then added the “house”. With the help of Marcos best friend, an engineer with a passion, everything was designed down to the smallest detail. Then a welder was found who welded the aluminum box professionally. We put the box on the truck using a crane. After that, Marco installed everything himself: Insulation, wooden walls, doors, windows, furnishings, electrics and water hoses. It took two years. After all, it was to become a real small house on wheels with a kitchen, sitting area, sleeping area and bathroom.
Mercedes-Benz SK and LK
OM 366 A
Gross vehicle weight
MYVAN: Where did you get the expertise for the conversion on your own – certainly not an easy task?
Ananda: For the most part Marco’s best friend helped us. The Internet assisted us with the rest. Marco has done an incredible amount of research in forums. With such a special project, however, you reach your limits even on the World Wide Web at some point. Much was trial and error – and that was quite a test of patience. However, the result is really nice and our house on wheels, a unique prototype, looks very chic. Marco has always been a very good craftsman and as a photographer he knows a lot about colors, shapes and light. You can see that in the interior.
MYVAN: Were there any special challenges?
Marco: The hardest part was the electronics and all the wiring. Solar panels are installed on the roof to charge four high-performance batteries. From these batteries, several cables lead to the inverters and all lamps and devices, such as the refrigerator and water pump. It took a very long time to work all this out. Now we can travel very independently. We also have two water tanks with 100 liters of water each and a filter system that generates drinking water from them. The water hoses and the cables were certainly the most complicated part of the whole structure.
MYVAN: Did any doubts ever arise?
Marco: You have doubts about the conversion all the time. Whether and when the project will ever come to an end is totally unclear. Only afterwards did we realize that this was already the beginning of the journey.
We always say we only have one little house, but our garden is the whole world.
As soon as the new home was completed, the two adventurers set off from Cologne towards Asia. On a route of almost 40,000 kilometers, the two adventurers first meandered through the Balkans, across the Middle East, through China until they finally reached India. Where they want to go tomorrow is decided anew every day. Sometimes the weather is not right for a certain direction, sometimes they need to get a certain tool from the city, sometimes it simply depends on their mood.
The only thing that was clear on our itinerary was that we wanted to go from Germany to India. With our spontaneous approach, the “iOverlander” app is very helpful, allowing travelers to mark their most beautiful camping spots in the van.
MYVAN: Which adventures are so far the most memorable?
Ananda: With a Unimog, one adventure follows the next. Iran was most impressive, one of the friendliest countries of our trip and surprisingly a real camping nation. Throughout the country, Iranians pitch their tents and have a picnic. No matter on what surface. When we stopped at the top of a snow-covered mountain, a group of road workers invited us to a picnic in the snow. Next to their snowploughs, they had spread a blanket out on the snow. After that, however, their snowploughs got stuck. We were able to free them again with the Unimog.
MYVAN: “Vanlife” as you live it is attracting more and more people. What do you think is driving them to live on four wheels?
Marco: I think it’s the dream of turning your life upside down, rethinking it, travelling far away, but always having your home with you, or at least a smaller version of it. With the things you really need. It is the dream to live freely and independently, to concentrate on the essential and to be part of nature. We always say we only have one small house, but our garden is the whole world. It is good to concentrate on the essentials and to be outdoors a lot.
The shown conversions were carried out by independent third parties. The suppliers and conversions were not checked by Mercedes-Benz. In this respect, these illustrations do not represent an assessment of the supplier and/or conversions by Mercedes-Benz.