D-ROLF, FREE WHEELING IN U.S.A.
Tuesday, January 29, 2002
By Stacey Wiebe Mercedsun-Star/Calif.
Rolf Becker,called D-ROLF, a world traveler and folk hero from Germany, is accustomed to pleasing crowds. He’s his country’s answer to Crocodile Dundee or Mr.Bean and he’s succeeded in his chosen role of thought-ful court jester. Tuesday, he stopped off in Merced while en route to Salt Lake City. There, he’ll play the role of journalist and enjoy the Olympic Winter Games with other tenants in the „German house.“ Becker, 54, was disco-vered by C. Salmeri and Dick Collins of Merced while they wereat Yosemite National Park. Becker had been visiting a friend, but he decided to check out the natural surroundings before shoving off to San Francisco and then swinging east to Utah. Salmeri said, „We saw him (D-ROLF) go by. We got up to lookout point and Rolf was out there and Dick said, ‚What kind of car is that?‘ And he told us the whole story.“
D-ROLF’s adventures in the United States began in 1990, when he became the first man from East Germany to cross the country in his 2-cylin-der, 1960s model Trabant -601. With a thick German accent, but in “nice” English, he said, „I went west to see the U.S. It was not a question of money, but
a question of philo-sophy. After the reuni-fication (of Germany), the car was a symbol: Fill not the conditions that your mother, father, brother or sister have for a car.“ According to Becker, the Trabant, or „Trabi,“ as he has called the roughly 30 incarnations of his original Trabant, is a popular and highly visible car in East Ger-many. About 3 million of the tiny 26-horsepower cars were made. Top speed for the Trabant is about 60 mph.
Becker says, „If you say ‚Elvis Presley,‘ people have a picture in their minds of a Cadillac. If you say ‚East Germany,‘ you picture a Trabant. It is a car with character.“
“Hongkong Standard” 1st Page D-ROLF
Out of costume, Becker resembles a well-read college professor. In costume, however, he becomes the clown that lies just beneath the surface of his ready smile. Collins, who became fast friends with D-ROLF in Yosemite, says, „He’s a card. The guy is a master at promotion.“ In a bright yellow pinstriped shirt, D-ROLF is the picture of a classic street performer as he waves a trumpet and tells a joke from beneath a worn black hat. After finishing his college studies of locomotive engines in East Germany in 1971, Becker obtained employment in an office. But he wasn’t happy. „I wasn’t satisfied to sit in the office and study plans … . I knew that was not the way for me to be happy.“ In 1983, he left the office to begin a new career be-hind a street organ. Being an organ grinder in East Germany was different from being one in the United States. „I made stand-up comedy, and I was prepaid. I did not have to bother the people.“ Though he had been attending the Olym-pic Games since the late 1970s, D-ROLF’s popula-rity grew as he played to growing crowds and increased the scope of his travels. „The people worldwide are the same,“ he says. In 1990, he made his way to the Uni-ted States for the first time. He was “the hero“ in New York City’s 1990 Steuben Parade, and he continued to wow the crowds. In 1999, a book about some of his travels – titled „Nicht Ohne Meinen Trabi“, or „Not Without my Trabi“ – was published. He’s funding his trip to Utah with American and European sponsorship. Still, he travels light, without the frills associated with celebrity status. „If I make this trip without profit, it’s a great win. I made relations and I have seen America!.“ See also: Pravda, Yomori Shimbun, Finacial Times, USA-ToDay, FAZ, Capital, Australian, Le Nation, ND, NZZ, Car & Driver… ARD, CNN, BBC, ABC…ZDF,
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