Sverre Monsen starts off with a surprising story. On Fridays, he always works at home, he tells us. But rather than sitting in his office, he works on his laptop in the garage. Or more precisely, on the rear seat of his Mercedes-Benz 170 S, which he fondly calls Hermann.
“I know it sounds strange, but I’m much more comfortable there than at my desk,” says the Norwegian, whose name translates as “wild man”. Sverre is a police officer, 56 years old. He loves his dark-blue W 136 so much that he has even opened a social media account for it: Hermann Benz, a mixture of the first owner’s first name and, of course, Mercedes-Benz. Profile of the car: produced in 1950, delivered on 3 January 1951, colour code DB 331.
Typical Lofoten: inverted boats in front of wooden houses.
Route: Hurtigruten is the classic post ship route in Norway.
Over the next few days, Sverre’s wife, Helen, will repeatedly use the word “love” when talking about Hermann. “We would never sell him; he is simply part of the family. We even talk to him,” she says laughing. Sverre winks at her.
Screeching seagulls are circling over the nearby seawall. Helen and Sverre have travelled from Oslo to Trondheim, the original capital city of Norway, in their 170 S. They are about to meet a number of friends from the Mercedes-Benz Club Norway at the harbour. Club president Kjetil Tveitan has invited them for a tour. The destination is the Lofoten islands, an island group north of the Arctic Circle with steep cliffs and lush, green pastures. Around 80 islands emerging from the North Atlantic – a dream destination for many, but only a one-night Hurtigruten ferry trip from Trondheim.
So the road trip begins with a boat trip in Trondheim. The city was founded in 997 by the Viking king Olav Tryggvason, who is commemorated by a statue on the market square.
Colourful wooden buildings and narrow canals set the scene. There is not much time left for the history of Norway’s third-largest city, as the 123-metre-long MS Nordkapp is already casting a long shadow. The loading ramp at the side is open, and many pallets of goods, plus three Mercedes-Benz cars, are lined up to be lowered into the hold. “Age before beauty,” Clemens Olsson Tveitan whispers, and grins knowingly. Parked ahead of him are the 170 S of Sverre and the red 190 SL of Grete and Thor Denstad.
Car lift: The 190 SL is loaded into the ship via the side ramp.
Adventurous: Thor drives his 190 SL off the ship – the car is a present from his wife.
Clemens is 19 years old, the son of Hilde Olsson and Kjetil. He is waiting for the family car, an E 220 Cabriolet dating from 1995, to be loaded on board. Each car is separately lowered into the ship’s hold.
In the early morning the post ship enters the Arctic Circle. 66° 33’ N. The latitude marking the land of the midnight sun is not only a magic number, but also an invisible ring around the globe. “All those who cross into the Arctic Circle for the first time must be christened,” declares Ståle Andersen, the first nautical officer. His colleague, navigation officer Harald Aarsund, went through the experience eight years ago, at the age of 18. Custom cannot be flouted, and because it is supposed to bring good fortune, the Mercedes-Benz Club members also line up on Deck 7 to have a ladle of icy water poured over their heads.
With wet hair, they stand and enjoy the view of the small islands as they pass by. Fortunately, the heavens are kind to them as they cross the Arctic Circle, forming several layers of clouds through which magical sunlight shines down. In some areas the water is just like a mirror. The green islands to the right and left tell their own quiet stories, and the craggy, grey cliffs rise from the Atlantic as eternal witnesses of the ages. The ship is approaching Svolvær, and before the dark Lofoten rock wall becomes visible, the seven Mercedes-Benz excursionists start talking about their ancestors: how heroic they must have been to establish themselves on the small coasts of northern Norway, and how the Arctic-Norwegian codfish already gave them a means of sustenance 5,000 years ago.
Without the shoals of cod, there would have been no Vikings. Dried and therefore able to be stored for an almost unlimited time, it was both food and an item that could be traded.
Nothing of this hard life is still visible when the ship enters the harbour. There is an air of freedom and adventure, and the sun refuses to set although it is almost midnight. Time to drive the cars off the ramp and explore the islands: steep and craggy cliffs, grazing sheep. Grete and Thor are driving with the soft top open. The weather is cool, but the couple love to enjoy the nature around them with all their senses.
Orientation: The Kjeungskjær lighthouse is mainly there to guide fishermen.
The destination for this nighttime trip in almost broad daylight is a lighthouse up in the north. This is where Sverre spent many holidays as a small boy, as his ancestors lived there. He leads the group with his 170 S, followed by Thor in his 190 SL and Hilde in the E 220 with Clemens on the front passenger seat and club president Kjetil on the right in the rear.
The streets are deserted, and there is a fog rolling across the craggy hills. The almost 5,000 inhabitants of the island all appear to be asleep. Sverre parks his beloved Hermann and walks along a jetty towards the sea, with the others following him. He points out an enormous wooden framework a few hundred metres away – this is where the locals hang up the codfish to dry in February, he explains. He was also allowed to help when still a small boy. The eyes of his friends are now getting smaller, but the sky shows no signs of tiredness.
The next morning begins with a similarly mystical light, but the fog has cleared. Thor has been fussing around the 190 SL for some time, folding jackets and stowing them in the boot. “This car is the present of my life,” he reveals. Grete purchased it for him 16 years ago, when he was “going through a bad patch”. He was depressed, and she wanted to cheer him up. Thor and Grete have now been married for 45 years and live in Oslo, and their four cars are kept in a 700-square-metre garage on the outskirts. There is space for 40 vehicles, and the premises are rounded off by a small club workshop. Kjetil also has a key to the large garage.
Lunch break: short stop at a campsite with additional timber structures.
Perfect trio: craggy hills, calm water, empty roads.
He and Hilde come over and join us. The club president strokes the soft top of his E 220 Cabriolet. He met his wife in 1982, when studying law. Today, Kjetil works at the Norwegian Ministry of Health, and Hilde is a coordinator in an animal home. “After an accident, I needed a varied and interesting job that would avoid back-stress,” she tells us when she is seated at the wheel again. “The W 124 is really perfect for the narrow roads on the islands. And if you are driving yourself, you feel this even more intensively.”
Apropos driving yourself: Helen would also like to drive the 170 S around the island, but it takes a long time to adjust the seat perfectly, she tells us as she takes to the passenger seat after a lunch break. “I like driving around with this classic, even on the front passenger seat.” And Hermann is not just a dream car for her and her husband: “Everybody loves this car and waves to us.” A refuelling stop can easily take 20 minutes, as the classic is a popular photo motif and Sverre is very patient when answering questions. “When I’m in the car I forget everything around me; it’s like taking a time journey to another world,” says Helen, and follows up with an anecdote. A few years ago they set off on a journey to the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart – though they never arrived there.
“We had so many stopovers and toured so many cities that we only got as far as Münster.” They are planning to make the journey again in 2020.
“Our three grown-up children are not so much in love with the 170 S, but it was good enough for them as a wedding car,” Sverre says laughing. “But when our grandchildren come to visit, we always take them on a tour in it. Perhaps we can pass on our love for this classic to the little ones.” In a few days he will retire from his police job, on his 57th birthday. This is possible in Norway. So what will happen to your home-office Friday? “I’ll still sit on the rear seat. Without a laptop – just sit there.”