A caravan that’s so light even beginners can tow it: On his search for an ecological material for his latest project, engineer Anno Mentzel came across kiri (botanical name: paulownia). He reveals in an interview why it never gets clammy in his AirCamper, his experiences with the wood and why the bed was the biggest challenge.
Mr Mentzel, you have built a minimalist caravan out of kiri. It must be a one-off. How did you do it?
Anno Mentzel: I’ve always wanted one because I think the teardrop design is so adorable. A friend then got me thinking about building one. So I designed the AirCamper using a computer, calculated everything, simulated it and then built it in my spare time over the course of 6 months. There is indeed nothing comparable on the market at present.
What was the biggest challenge in building it?
(laughs): The bed frame! Try finding load figures for a bed for somebody who moves around more than usual during their sleep! There aren’t any. I assumed a 5G force (five times gravitational acceleration) for somebody with a mass of 200 kilos, thereby doubling the safety factor.
Why did you use kiri/paulownia wood?
Because it’s ultra-light. This is in line with our approach of being fully committed to ecology and sustainability. Most caravans are made of aluminium and plastic. We wanted to avoid this as much as possible. We also save fuel by using paulownia wood. The heavier something is, the more power the towing vehicle’s engine needs. Our camper is by far the lightest and most ecological of its size.
How much does the caravan weigh?
It has an unladen weight of around 330 kilos. Other wooden caravans easily weigh more than three times as much. We are the only teardrop caravan to even have a toilet on board. It’s so light that any driving licence class beginner can tow it. But we can get even better. I drive a small Lomax that is only allowed to tow 270 kilos, so that is my next goal.
For all its cuteness, your caravan also looks pretty streamlined.
Yes, I am also an aircraft designer and, of course, I focused on streamlined aerodynamics. It also helps again to save on fuel.
With all that wood, isn’t it a bit chilly in bad weather?
No, not at all. Firstly, we have an ecological tea light stove as on-board heating. And wood means always having nice warm feet. Secondly, paulownia creates a pleasantly warm atmosphere. The four litres of moisture that each person produces per night simply goes out through the wood without cooling down like in a tent. It never gets clammy like in other caravans.
The interior not only has a bed and a toilet, but also a kitchen with a water tank, a hob and even a wine rack. Pretty luxurious!
My girlfriend and I love cooking. So the kitchen has to be well equipped. Because of the gas cooker, it’s also good that paulownia wood has a much higher flash point than normal wood. The wine rack is only for red wine, though; it’s a bit too warm there for white wine (laughs).
And what is that in the middle with the lid?
A rubbish bin into which kitchen waste can be pushed. My son wanted it for cooking.
It all looks very well thought out.
Of course! It’s well thought-out minimalism. Ecological, sustainable, effective … That’s also the VolksSchrauber motto.
And yet stylish.
I think that a caravan like this shouldn’t just be practical, but should also have a pleasing look. You want to have things nice at the weekend when cooking and eating by the lake.
But getting to that point means lots of work, doesn’t it?
Yes, but the wood was easy to work with, easier than normal wood. This is also due to the awesome nature of Polly, as I like to call the wood. Because paulownia is so much lighter, the force required to cut it is also much lower. This means that commercially available battery-powered tools are all you need – from circular saws to planers and screwdrivers. You can operate them by hand. By contrast, using a heavy saw all day leaves me weak in the arm by the evening. The main thing was the feeling of building something beautiful. Every evening I left the workshop with a smile on my face.
Mr Mentzel, many thanks for the interview!