What kind of present do you give a man who has +40 years of life experience on you? A man who most likely already owns everything that he could wish for (aside for things which no reasonable person could afford). This eternal conundrum plagues us every year when my Dads birthday comes around.
All of us kids have far surpassed the age where home made gifts are an option – but none of us really know what he could want. This situation has led to him being gifted a nice pair of socks in the past.
By off-chance I stumbled across a TV program (at 2am) which highlighted the “Best Action/Man Presents”. Normally these kind of things consist of some crap like bungee jumping, driving a racing car, paintballing and that sort of stuff. Not ultimately appealing, Especially not for a guy like my Dad. As the list was coming to an end – they showcased something rather interesting. Out in the middle of nowhere in the German countryside, some crazy people bought up a bunch of old Soviet/DDR Tanks (they’ve got 13 in total) and let you drive around in them. That could do the trick.
The place was called “Panzerkutscher” and was located close to Beerfelde, which is about 60km east of Berlin. I say close to Beerfelde as the “Panzerkutscher” is actually located in a field in the middle of the countryside.There are no real restrictions as to who can drive one of these Tanks. As long as you are over the age of 16 (and can fit through the entry hatch you are good to go. You don’t even need a drivers licence. For those who just want to tag along for the fun, for €10 you can hitch a ride on top of the tank. Bonus!
My old man served in the military when he was younger where he had driven a Tank before – and what better way to round off 4 years of Living in Moscow than driving around in a Soviet T55 Tank?
BOOM! We bought him a voucher and the deal was sealed.
So the fateful day came along and my dad popped over to Berlin for the Weekend. We got into the car and drove out east. What should have been a straight forward one hour drive through the country – ended up being a 2 hour trip through the forest. If you thought Berlins roads where crap – well I suggest you take a road trip to Beerfelde when the only road you can take is closed off. We eventually did find our way back onto a paved road again – after thoroughly testing the off road capabilities of my girlfriends Chevrolet Spark.
So there we were, a torn up piece of land with a small concrete hut. And right in the middle a T55 Tank with an elderly family was cruising at full speed through the dirt.
We made our way to the Hut to sign ourselves in and got a quick breakdown of what was going to happen. The friendly man inside the hut then guided us towards the T55 Tank and the Instructor.
First lesson of the Day. Never ever stand in front of a tank, even when its standing still. Might sound obvious, but it’s not.
The Instructor gave my Dad one of those hats that seem to be all the rage when revolutions break out (you always see a handful of guys wearing them for some reason) – and hooked him into the intercom system. He asked if was coming along for the ride and after a quick nod told me to jump on.
After giving him a quick refresher about the gears and the other technical aspects we were good to go. Apparently its not more difficult than driving a Trabbi
Now while my Dad got to sit inside the Tank, our Instructor perched himself on top of the Commanders Hatch and started to dish out some instructions into the intercom.
I on the other hand got to sit on top of the tank. Right next to the Engine and Exhaust.
With nothing to hold on to. There are not seats or anything substantial to hold on to. They did provide me with a slice of styrofoam padding for some extra comfort. This didnt makes it any easier to take pictures or videos (didn’t help that all I had with me was a crappy little Fuji Finepix)
Another interesting lesson I learned that day was that those awesome Soviet Tank Helmets not only serve as an awesome Skype headset, but also help cancel out the noise. Sitting right next to a 12 cylinder, 581 Horsepower Engine is pretty loud. Dear god if I wasnt deaf before, I sure was now.
So while I was in the process of going deaf I did manage to take 2 quick videos. Essentially what you see going on is the Tank doing its rounds while the Instructor is sitting on top of the open hatch smoking cigarettes like a Boss. What you don’t see is that he’s giving instructions all the time.
I warn you – if you watch the video, turn the sound down, the engine noise is quite loud.
One thing id like to point out in the video is at the 2:45 mark the T55 stops in front of 2 “mounds*. What you need to remember is that the Tank has an absolutely tiny filed of vision – approx. the size of 2 cigarette packs. So when you drive uphill, the driver ends ups staring into the sky until he drives back down again.
After driving around for another few rounds, splashing through giant “puddles” which submerged the Tank halfway – our Tank adventure came to an end. My dad was absolutely ecstatic about the 40 minute experience and he even earned massive praise from the Bossman Instructor for his driving skills.
Even a year later my Dad is still raving about the experience – so it must have been good. Although I was just sitting on top I can only recommend it as well. An absolutely fantastic experience.
If you want to have a go at driving the BMP-1 or the T55 Tank it will set you back 145€. Riding along on top will cost you €10.
If you want to have a really unique experience then you can shell out another €260 (on top of the €145) and crush a car with one of the Tanks.
For more information check out their website (*Achtung – it’s all in German*)
DE-15518 Steinhöfel OT Beerfelde