With 830 hp, the Leopard 1 pushes its way noisily through the mud. Round after round, the chain mail rolls over the course of the Panzer-Fun-Fahrschule in Steinhöfel, Brandenburg. The continuous rain has turned the ground into a mud desert. Knut Möller routinely steers the tank over obstacles such as steep slopes and anti-tank ditches as if he had never done anything else.
"It's been 35 years since I was in the Bundeswehr, but I haven't forgotten that," says the 55-year-old from Schleswig-Holstein. His wife bought him the tank ride for his birthday. The self-employed master mechanic from near Kiel is one of many guests this weekend who will leave with mud spattered on their clothes, but satisfied.
The war in Ukraine is not an issue here, about 60 kilometers east of Berlin. The fun driving school promises that guests can forget their everyday worries and stress. Families with children, groups of men and also a group of women from Frankfurt (Oder) are here this Saturday.
The women gave a colleague the tank tour for her 60th birthday. "It should be something other than bowling," they agree. After a glass of Prosecco, the BMP-1 armored personnel carrier sets off: rain falls from above, mud splashes below. The special highlight: a high-speed drive in which the driver accelerates significantly again. In addition to the roar of the engines, the laughter of the women can be heard in the distance.
"Our guests come with a smile and leave with a smile," says driving school founder Axel Heyse, who has been running his company for 17 years now. The war in Ukraine did not harm the business. The customers are not interested in war games. Finally, the tanks are all demilitarized.
It is only the technology that inspires people. "There's almost nothing stopping you with a machine like this," says Heyse. Knut Möller from Schleswig-Holstein also says he's glad that he never had an emergency during his time in the Bundeswehr: "Nobody wants that."
Axel Heyse trained tank drivers for the National People's Army in East Germany for ten years. For the fun drivers behind the wheel, the briefing takes about half an hour. A tank driving instructor from Heyse's team is present during every drive.
Tank lovers can also steer or ride on giant giants in other regions of Germany, especially in the eastern federal states.
In Saxony-Anhalt, Benno Winter from the Landsberg off-road team reports that demand has even increased since the war in the Ukraine. "When the tank deliveries to Ukraine were discussed, many people suddenly wanted to know what tank driving was like," says Winter. The guests come from all walks of life: "workers, teachers, doctors, everything is there."
If you want to drive a tank, you will not only find the providers online, but also a number of companies that sell vouchers for these tours. The Munich company Jochen Schweizer was also involved until shortly after the beginning of the war. Since the beginning of March 2022, however, it no longer sells vouchers for tank rides. "We made a conscious decision to no longer offer this due to the war in Ukraine," the company said.
The tank tours are still on offer at the Erfurt voucher broker panzer-fahren.net. "There has also been war in many other parts of the world for a long time. Is a human life worth less in Syria than in the Ukraine?" Managing Director Axel Zawischa points out. The war in Ukraine has had no noticeable impact on sales.
But many providers have completely different problems: "There is a lack of spare parts, there are always new laws and regulations, fuel has become expensive and the corona pandemic has also destroyed some things," says Zawischa.
In the Hessian town of Knüllwald-Remsfeld, for example, there have been no tanks rolling through the "Böser Wolf" off-road park since Corona. "We just don't have any staff at the moment," says Deputy Managing Director Thilo Krug. On the other hand, he does not want to disappoint customers who have already bought vouchers. Alternatively, they could also drive construction machinery.
Driving a tank as a leisure activity - that's also possible in other countries. This offer was also available in Ukraine, at least until the outbreak of war. In addition to trips to Chernobyl or shooting adventures with Kalashnikovs, the company "Adventure Tours in Ukraine" also offered tank rides.
At the moment, the company no longer publishes adventure photos on social networks, but rather images of war and destruction. A prospect who asked in May 2022 if the company was still active was posted a map of the air strikes and remarked: "It's too unsafe. Better wait to travel."