English

All-rounder on
an aid mission.

Unimog U 4000 from the Gaggenau Unimog Club takes relief supplies to earthquake victims in Croatia.

It wasn't a happy Christmas for the people living in and around Petrinja: directly after Christmas 2020, the earth shook in the Croatian town and surrounding region. An aid convoy from Gaggenau set off for Croatia only a few days later, to provide some relief from the distress caused by the earth tremors – with a Unimog U 4000 as the protagonist.

Courageous men of action at the wheel.

Markus Hrkac was stunned when news of the catastrophe reached the German media on 29 December. Many friends and relatives of Markus, who was born in Croatia, live in Petrinja, the town worst hit by the earthquake. "My first thought was; we've got to help!" René Dusseldorp, Managing Director of Merex and Mertec in Gaggenau, recalls – his son André Dusseldorp is good friends with Markus Hrkac and he also has Croatian team members in his company.

From baby food to clothing, blankets, heating elements, camp beds to medicines: donations and relief supplies were collected via Facebook, personal contacts and the Gaggenau Unimog Club, and André Dusseldorp and a helper loaded them on to a Sprinter and a Vito owned by Merex and drove them to Petrinja.

Unimog leads second relief team.

When they arrived, they quickly realised that more help was needed. Whole roads had been destroyed by the earthquake and people could not return to their houses. "The region around Petrinja is very rural; mostly older people live there and the younger ones have moved to the towns. Some houses were 120 years old and there was nothing more anyone could do," says René Dusseldorp about the situation in the disaster area.

He was quickly able to get a picture for himself. Shortly after his son returned, René Dusseldorp asked the Gaggenau Unimog Club, where he is a member too, if they could possibly use the club's Unimog to transport further relief supplies more effectively. With the help of the club and a generous anonymous donation, they quickly assembled the second relief convoy and supplied it with a Mercedes-Benz Special Truck and enough money for fuel and tolls.

"On 19 January 2021, Greg Köhler and I set off in the Unimog with trailer, and my son and his friend Markus Hrkac drove the Vito to Petrinja," says René Dusseldorp. It was a nerve-racking experience, not just in retrospect – but also because the conditions of the pandemic made things harder. "We took turns driving so we could do the long journey without stopping," says René Dusseldorp. The volunteers were not allowed to spend more than 78 hours in the country without a vaccination and a Covid test. The many supporters in Gaggenau took care of all the formalities.

We didn't see the full extent of the destruction until the next day.

René Dusseldorp, Managing Director, Merex and Mertec

There at last.

The Unimog and trailer with a total length of 14 m, a combination weight of 11 t and a top speed of 89 km/h, plus the Vito, finally arrived at their destination in the disaster area at 8 p.m. At the end of the journey there were grateful people waiting, but also dangers. "We slept in our clothes, just in case there was another earthquake in the night," René Dusseldorp recalls. "From December until now there have been another 400 tremors in the region, although fortunately they weren't as severe," says the businessman from Gaggenau.

But before they could even think about sleeping after such a long day on the road, the relief supplies were unloaded that same night and the donations were stored in a public building. Markus Hrkac's relatives provided board and lodging for the volunteers from Gaggenau. The next morning, they drove to the surrounding villages to distribute the donations. "We didn't see the full extent of the destruction until the next day," says René Dusseldorp.

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No business as usual.

Finally, the men set off on their 15-hour journey back to Gaggenau. Also on board: the good feeling of having helped people, but also that nagging worry that they could have done even more. That was an unusual operation for the Unimog U 4000 that finally returned to its garage at Gaggenau Unimog Club after having driven 1800 kilometres.

"Without all the support of the many helpers and supporters, we wouldn't have managed to do the convoy," says René Dusseldorp, expressing his gratitude. And one thing is sure – if help is ever needed again in the future, he'll get behind the wheel once more.

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