Why the VW Beetle is so popular in the West Bank

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Why the VW Beetle is so popular in the West Bank-west

Omar Zuhairi stands in front of a restored and bright orange painted VW Beetle in the West Bank. More and more Palestinians are discovering the classic car for themselves

Source: dpa

In the West Bank you meet an old friend who has largely disappeared from the streets in Germany: the VW Beetle. More and more Palestinians are discovering the classic car for themselves.

S.deaf and metal shavings rise as Omar Zuhairi blows against the roof of the body. He’s angry because apparently nothing has happened since his last visit to the workshop. To appease, a mechanic brings small glasses with hot coffee, which settles as silt on the bottom of the glass.

Then the negotiations start about when the men will get Zuhairi’s VW Beetle keep working. “Today they really make my life difficult,” says the 41-year-old. He has the battered Beetle renovated in the Palestinian city of Nablus, but lives in Ramallah an hour away. "They take advantage of the fact that I can’t go by every day to check them."

Zuhairi accepts the delays because Nablus has the best workshops. In the city of 200,000 people, a lot revolves around cars, and in some streets there are shops for mechanics, upholsterers, painters and spare parts dealers. Cars from Germany are very popular – BMW, Mercedes, but above all Volkswagen. And especially, next to the Bulli, the VW Beetle.

Why the VW Beetle is so popular in the West Bank-beetle

In a workshop in Nablus in the West Bank there is a battered VW Beetle, the dark red paint of which has largely been sanded off

Source: dpa

“Of course, the car is only for classic car enthusiasts,” says Ali Al-Kutob. He helped set up a group in Nablus that can be described as a Kafer fan club. The Facebook page has around 3,600 likes, but very few friends have a Beetle themselves. Al-Kutob doesn’t have his own either, but proudly shows the seven cars he helped renovate on his iPhone.

The 25-year-old runs a hair salon. His little customers sit in a chair shaped like a car to have their hair cut, the big ones can get a new hairstyle as well as turn signals and chrome-plated exterior mirrors at Al-Kutob: “We import parts from Germany or directly through my agent here,” he says. Zuhairi came to his shop to examine a bumper.

Prices for 1970s Beetles are rising sharply

“It takes a lot of time to put everything together yourself,” he says. “I want everything in the original style, including the mirrors and lights should look like they did in the seventies.” The journalist paid the equivalent of 3,000 euros for a battered Beetle from 1970; its old owner had not driven the car in previous years.

Zuhairi estimates a further 20,000 shekels, around 4600 euros, for the all-round renovation: dent removal, painting, new electrics, a completely new interior. "But just a very simple radio, like in the past, no frills," says Zuhairi. Everything should be ready by summer.

Why the VW Beetle is so popular in the West Bank-fairy tale Beetle German Autobahn

The dusty dashboard of a VW Beetle in a workshop in Nablu, some of the paneling is missing, but the key is in and there is a cassette radio

Source: dpa

It thus meets a taste that is in demand by many Beetle friends. "The trend is towards visually original oldtimers," says Henry Hackerott. He is the director of the “May Beetle Team Hanover”, a German Beetle fan club.

The prices, especially for the copies produced in Germany up to the mid-1970s, have risen sharply in recent years: “Today, you have to spend 5,000 to 10,000 euros for something sensible,” says Hackerott. This means that the Beetle is still cheap compared to other classic cars.

The VW scandal is not an issue here

By the final end of production in 2003, a total of 21,529,464 Beetles had rolled off the assembly line. From 1967 to 1983 just over 20,000 of them were imported into Israel, mostly in the early 1970s.

How many of them ended up in the occupied West Bank is not known: According to Volkswagen’s historical department, dealers in the West Bank worked with the Jordanian importer, but there was also the option of importing cars from Israel.

Why the VW Beetle is so popular in the West Bank-fairy tale Beetle German Autobahn

Disused and partly rusted bodies of VW Beetles and Bullis lie in a junkyard in Nablus

Source: dpa

Felix Burian is someone who has made a significant contribution to the success of the Beetle in the Middle East. The now 92-year-old opened the first VW branch in the region in Tel Aviv, Israel. The Beetle was a best seller, recalls Burian, "until the Golf really got going."

“I’ve loved the Beetle since I saw it for the first time,” says Ali Al-Kutob from the Beetle Fan Club in Nablus. "It’s a German car: strong, very well-known, everyone looks after you when you drive it."

Was the reputation of German cars suffering from the VW emissions scandal? Al-Kutob has never heard of that – the Beetles and Bullis in Nablus don’t have any sensors that could be manipulated anyway. Omar Zuhairi wants to stick a German flag next to the license plate of his Beetle.

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