Tour de Culture.

In the Midi-Pyrenees of southern France with Mercedes-Benz buses.
  • Tour de Culture.

  • Opening stage.

    Day 1: Mercedes-Benz Intouro, Tourismo, Citaro G, Sprinter Travel, Sprinter Transfer and Sprinter City – the main protagonists await fully fuelled and freshly polished in Toulouse. At the starting point in the regional capital, the aim for the nine days ahead is clearly defined: the protagonists will be portraited, put into words, photographed and filmed against the backdrop of the beautiful Midi-Pyrenees in southern France. And at the centre of the action are ten members of the Mercedes-Benz Omnibus DriverClub, who are able to witness this sophisticated production at first hand – and are also the hidden stars of the production as drivers of the buses. “More strenuous than we thought. Yes, much more strenuous!” Maik Sahlke from Naumburg (Hesse) comments during the one-week production period. As well he might: as captivating as the results of the ongoing filming, photoshoots and research might be, the planning and execution are just as intensive.

    Bus und Airbus.

    The highlight of the first day? No question for Peter Sell from Hamburger Hochbahn, the driver of the Citaro G: “The Airbus, or rather driving the bus around the Airbus!” Quite literally in fact, as the aircraft manufacturer opens its hallowed halls especially for Mercedes-Benz. Allowing a unique meeting between two giants. In his home town of Finkenwerder, 62-year-old Peter Sell regularly drives his bus past the factory gates, and has long dreamed of getting so close to this giant of the skies. However, the plant in Hamburg only assembles and paints parts of the enormous aircraft. It is at the Airbus headquarters adjacent to Toulouse-Blagnac airport that the A380 reaches its majestic full size – perfect for a photo and film session with the Citaro G, which need not be ashamed of its 18-meter length compared to the 80 metres of the Airbus!

    Together, both these giants in their field regularly carry several hundred passengers in Frankfurt, Germany's largest airport – true greatness gives them much in common.

    World Heritage.

    The second day provides the highlight for Manfred Wandl, on the Ponte Napoleon. Early in the morning Maik Sahlke drives the group in the Sprinter Transfer serenely along the Lavedan river and into the rock formations of the Cirque de Gavarnie. The valley with its 1500-metre high, almost vertical cliffs and Europe’s highest waterfalls has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1997. On the Ponte Napoleon, 54-year-old Manfred Wandl spontaneously takes the opportunity to try out the bungee-jumping station especially constructed for Mercedes-Benz, with a brave leap towards the Lavedan. “I just did it on the spur of the moment,” Manfred Wandl tells the surprised and concerned organising team. On the next stage of the tour, the fact that even such a perfectly planned production does not always proceed smoothly is demonstrated by two belligerent cows whose antics damage two rental cars, but fortunately none of the buses.

    Mountain stage.

    Along the Col d'Aspin on the traces of Richard Virenque, the most successful cyclist in this category who won seven mountain stages. With an altitude difference of almost 1000 metres, this pass is even a challenge for professional racing cyclists – though a tour like this is nothing special for the buses from Mercedes-Benz.

    'But it is exciting to cover the routes by bus that are usually covered by the Tour de France cyclists,' says Wolfgang Pohle from Bamberg, the driver of the Sprinter Travel.

    Half-time.

    Back in Toulouse, it is time for the specialists to show their stuff – and for once this does not mean the bus drivers who have steadfastly been manoeuvring their vehicles even over very difficult terrain in the Midi-Pyrenees of southern France. As the plan is to use a camera-equipped drone for the last filmshoot with the Citaro G, a specialist with special permission flies the drone over the streets of Toulouse with precision accuracy, always keeping the right distance from the Citaro G – for the perfect picture. When the film is in the can, it is time for the 18-metre bus to start its homeward journey.

    For the Intouro, the Tourismo and the Sprinter models, however, the French adventure is set to continue after this exciting filmshoot.

    Tour de Culture.

    The Intouro, Tourismo and Sprinters are following a northerly, in-country route to Albi, an attractive small town of 50,000 inhabitants with a historic town centre, narrow alleyways, an old covered market and the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum in the Palais de la Berbi – the Bishop’s Palace in Albi. In addition to thousands of paintings by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, works by Degas and Rodin are on display in the palace. The centrepiece of the historic old town, the episcopal quarter with its palace, has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2010. Truly a ‘tour de culture’ for man and machine – and by no means part of the daily routine for the organising team from Mercedes-Benz either.

    Challenges

    Even the professionals from Mercedes-Benz are left breathtaken when a damage deposit of 2.5 million is demanded for the use of a historic bridge in Albi , especially as its load capacity is only 3.5 tonnes. Even though the support provided by the authorities in the Midi-Pyrenees region, the police and the local population is impeccable – the risk is simply too great. Especially since a new challenge awaits on the next stage of the route. In the picturesque township of Courdes sur Ciel with just under 1000 inhabitants, Maik Sahlke confidently manoeuvres his Sprinter Transfer through the narrow town gateway. The narrow tunnel in Rocamandour, the mystical town on Jacob’s Way well known for its outstanding cuisine and Pèrigord truffles, is another test – but of course one which the Mercedes-Benz buses and their drivers pass with flying colours.

    Final stage.

    Back in Toulouse there is only one conclusion to be drawn after nine strenuous but fantastic days: “At the end of a tour people quite often come up to us to say goodbye, and tell us how much they enjoyed it. It is like acting in a theatre and receiving applause.” This is how Frank Abb from Bürgstadt sums up his normal daily work, but it also highlights what has made the last few days so special: the excellent interplay between the bus drivers, production team and the organising team from Mercedes-Benz – always more than 40 people who embodied the perfection for which the Mercedes-Benz brand excels.

    Final stage.

    Back in Toulouse there is only one conclusion to be drawn after nine strenuous but fantastic days: “At the end of a tour people quite often come up to us to say goodbye, and tell us how much they enjoyed it. It is like acting in a theatre and receiving applause.” This is how Frank Abb from Bürgstadt sums up his normal daily work, but it also highlights what has made the last few days so special: the excellent interplay between the bus drivers, production team and the organising team from Mercedes-Benz – always more than 40 people who embodied the perfection for which the Mercedes-Benz brand excels.

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