In the last 10 years, I’ve been to the Prescott Rally in Arizona 10 times. I’ve been to the Buschur Racing Shootout in Ohio half a dozen times, and Mitsubishi Owner Day in California at least 5 times, but one automotive event stands out from the crowd – Elbetreffen.
If you’ve ever been to a larger automotive event, you know how meeting people in person changes everything.
People who were once random screen names on forums become real names and faces, and it’s not long before they become family. You’re a next level gearhead. You know this.
Now multiply that life changing experience. Spend some of that mod money on yourself. Modify your life. In 2010, Vanessa and I, as we were boarding our flight to Frankfurt, stumbled upon details of a Mitsubishi meet outside Stuttgart, near where we would be staying. It was the night before our flight home, but it proved one of the most memorable automotive experiences of our lives.
That night, new friends Ingmar, Sabrina, Ralph, Conny, Tschippe, and the rest of the BaWu Mitsu-Fruende told us about Elbetreffen, the biggest Mitsubishi meet in Germany. Two years later, V and I were headed back to Germany to check it out. I’ve seen nothing like it in the States.
Nearly three years later, I finally managed to connect with Kai Wandersee, who has been organizing this event since 2005. I even took a day off work to make sure Kai and I could have this conversation on Facebook messenger. It’s taken me some time to clean it up, but I’m very excited to share this with you today.
INTRODUCING KAI WANDERSEE
[bd] Tell us about yourself. Where are you located and what do you do for a living? What do you drive and how do you use it?
[kw] I’m a 42-year old train track construction worker at Deutsche Bahn (German railways). My hometown is in the middle of Germany, right between Berlin and Leipzig – a small town at the river “Elbe.” My first Mitsubishi, bought in 1999, was a Galant EA station wagon. 12 years after that, I’ve changed to a new Mitsubishi ASX, in America named Outlander Sport. I’m also a father of a 23 year old son, born in 1991.
[bd] Let’s talk about Mitsubishi Fan Forum. How did it begin? How big is it today? What is the purpose or goal of MFF? What do you want for your members?
The MFF is the “Mitsubishi Fan Forum.” It is a virtual platform to meet people with similar interests and flavor of cars, especially Mitsubishi models. It began in 2005 as a hard conflict in another German fan platform began and many of our friends were looking for a new internet home for their passion for the three diamonds.
So we started with a hand full of bros our own new forum. The MFF today is the biggest German-speaking internet network for Mitsubishi enthusiasts. A high quality of care and an open ear for the problems of our members has made us what we are. With a strong tolerance for other opinions and a great pool of competent users, we are the best answer to requests of Mitsubishi drivers and fans in Germany and adjacent countries – best service, quick solutions, and a lot of fun are the desired properties for our MFF Team.
[bd] Vanessa and I were very impressed with Elbetreffen in 2012. How did this event come to be? How long has it been taking place? What goes on at ET? Can you share some information on how it’s grown? How big was ET in the early years?
[kw] The Mitsubishi Elbetreffen is named for the river flowing near the event area. First time was in May 2005. It was a weekend full of rain and the event was flooded, so most people thought we would never come back again. In 2005 we started with 107 cars and maybe 300 participants.
In 2008, we became the first Mitsubishi event with over 200 cars in Germany.
The event is growing larger. In the last four years, we had over 300 cars in the area. Best year was 2013, with 335 cars and over 800 people.
Since 2006, after the catastrophic wet debut one year before, we changed into June, and so the third weekend in June is the traditional date for the Mitsubishi Elbetreffen. We now have the greatest German Mitsubishi event, maybe the greatest in central Europe.
[bd] How many people attended in 2014? Are you aware of any other events of this size in the region/EU which might compare? Mitsubishi or otherwise? From how far away do people come to attend ET? Who has come the farthest?
[kw] Last year there we had 325 cars and about 755 people at the event. It was the 10th ET in a row. This year we will start the 11th. There are many car events larger than ours, but these are mixed tuning events with other car makes – some of them only JDM, others with an open welcome for all cars. I’m only interested in Mitsubishi and sometimes in JDM meets.
There are four to five events in the year in which I hope to take part. The most comparable event I know is the Mitsumaniaki – meeting in Poland. It is the same size and has a lot of similar offers and programs. Since 2011 we have a very friendly exchange with our Polish friends. They are visiting us in June and in August we drive to their meeting.
The Elbetreffen also welcomes drivers from other countries, like Russia, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands. Many of them travel over 800km to the event (one way). The greatest distance for anyone came in 2012, when we had a guest from Arizona in the US attend.
[bd] So cool. I still have my trophy for that on the mantel at home!
A lot of events in the US and elsewhere tend to be oriented around motorsport. If you’re not racing, you’re watching racing. I really liked how you had so many activities taking place for the whole family to enjoy. Can you tell us about some of these? Maybe the most popular (other than the Diamantenkette, which we’ll discuss shortly)?
[kw] I think the success of the event is a result of our mix for competitions and specials. We offer three full days of new competitions and new ideas – like the Diamantenkette or rally simulator, Canter pulling and so on.
So we think, each year, what kind of funny competitions we can make? The Mitsubishi driving simulator (a rally competition based on Gran Turismo for Sony Playstation) is the only one, which is offered in all years since we started in 2005. All other competitions have changed or evolved. Some of them came back, others were tried only for once. The variety of the event is one of the unique features of the ET.
But you’re right! We also look to combine our event with the great motorsports heritage of Mitsubishi. So each year we have real rally cars at the event. In 2013, for example, the Dakar Rally winning Pajero with which Jutta Kleinschmidt won the dessert rallye in 2001.
Last year we had the title champion of European Rally Championship in 1992 – a Galant VR4 – in the area. Some of smaller regional rally teams came and presented themselves.
The Mitsubishi Elbetreffen enjoys the reputation of being very family-oriented. We look for activities for all kinds of participants – kids just like adults. Many of our contests had a special kid rating. And also in the offered food and drinks we made kiddy proposals. The rally simulator is the most popular competition over the years, to kids in the same way like to older people.
[bd] Wait. Did you say Canter pulling? How heavy is this truck?
[kw] Teams of two or four men pull a Mitsubishi Canter truck against the clock over a 25 meter distance. Canter is the only Mitsubishi Truck distributed in Germany. It weighs maybe 7.5 tons and the record is just under 12 seconds by a 4-man team.
[bd] So let’s talk about the Diamantenkette (DK). It is the highlight of the event? Did you do this from the first event in 2005?
[kw] YESSSSSSSS! Since the first event. In 2005, we had it Friday evening – with only 34 cars.
[bd] Wow. Do you recall how many cars went in 2012?
[kw] Yes. I have the counts here. In 2012 we scratched at the 200 cars mark – three cars short – 197.
[bd] I remember it being a lot. Organizing such a large event is a lot of work, but taking that event onto the road – through towns and neighborhoods – is probably a lot more work. How did you get the Police and neighbors to agree to this?
[kw] In 2013 we had 178 cars and last year the first time over 200 – 203. Other events had the plan to copy our Diamantenkette, but they had problems with the government, so the ET is till today the only one with this special.
Our route is calculated only on main streets where we have the right of way. That’s important, because for the last three years, we’ve managed it without any police escort. The route has a total distance nearly 15-20km (-12mi). The government and police have much trust in us. The last ten years there has never an accident in the DK.
[bd] So I’ve heard! The year we went, there were no shenanigans or bad behaviors at all. That is incredibly impressive. In 2012, Vanessa and I were caught up in the moment, riding with Ingmar and Sabrina. We lost track of time. How long does it take to complete? From first car out of the Sportplatz to last car back?
[kw] Maybe 90 minutes. Last year, the first car arrived at Bad Schmiedeberg as the last car left the area. That’s a 7km (4mi) long line of Mitsubishis. Mitsubishi to Mitsubishi – or – diamond to diamond.
[bd] Diamantenkette = Diamond chain or necklace in English, right? So, for 90 minutes, you have maybe 200 cars on the road – a 7km/4mi long line of cars -filled with excited enthusiasts, driving 15-20km, blocking all other traffic, and there are no accidents or bad behaviors? Again, this would probably never happen in America.
[kw] Yes. That is right.
Bad behavioured drivers can actually drive straight home instead of coming back to the area. No trophy. No cash back. And permanent ban from the event in the future. Maybe these restrictions make it pretty clear.
[bd] There is much to lose by acting a fool. This makes sense. And it says much about ET. People value the event so much that the risk of not being able to attend keeps them on their best. In effect, this is quite the compliment to you and your team.
[kw] Yes. And we are very proud of it.
WORKING WITH SPONSORS
[bd] Mitsubishi might be the headline sponsor for ET, but I am sure they are not the only sponsors. Who else supports ET and how? Businesses will like to see a return on their financial investment in automotive events. How do you approach potential sponsors about this? What do they get from supporting ET/MFF?
[kw] Mitsubishi is the largest sponsor of our event. Since 2008, they bring their promotion truck to the event and support us with a great merchandise shop for the fans.
Other known sponsors are Recaro, Eibach, KW, Audiovox, Sandtler, Dr. Wack Chemie, Caramba, Koch Chemie, Fielmann, MKG Bank, Sparkasse, Autoart, Bandai, Schuco, HotWheels, Kumho, Dunlop, Toyo – Some of them are long time supporters, others only once.
It’s a hard job to find sponsors for such an event, but the support from the hometown and its inhabitants is exemplary. In the early years there were lots of reservations to our event in the neighborhood, but now, 10 years later, the ET has become a character like a carnival. And most of the people in the localities around the meeting are proud to host our guests.
[bd] What feedback do they provide as to the success of this partnership? How often do you work with Mitsubishi Germany on ET planning and/or engaging with the Mitsubishi community? Is ET/MFF the extent of their involvement? How do you remain organized with all these responsibilities?
[kw] The feedback is a mix of satisfaction and also some useful advice. Mitsubishi Germany is a steadfast supporter for many years now. That relationship is growing over the years. To our contact persons at the German headquarters, we have a very friendly relationship we are very proud of. It’s the a result of a work at the same eye level to get best outcome for all sides.
Some years ago, Mitsubishi Germany planned to build their own fan movement project with their own events. After initial visits and shared projects with us, they cancelled their plans and focused on closer cooperation with the existing clubs, where the MFF is taking a leading role in the German scene.
[bd] I’m sure organizing and running ET/MFF takes a great deal of time and effort. Who helps you?
[kw] To plan and organize the ET it seems to be a nearly full time job. In the last years, we start in October and intensify our efforts till the event in June.
At this point I have the thank my team very much for their support and motivation over the years. There were often times when I wanted to surrender; particularly in the last years,when the event is getting so large. But my team had again and again such good ideas to develop the event. With one or another new idea, they reach and spark my interest to carry on. In spite of the hard work to realize the ideas, the excitement was even bigger – how the new contests will be adopted by our fans. It’s bigger than the wish to give up. And so the next ET is better than the last every year.
[bd] So here is a question about your team. With so many people involved, how do you all keep organized? When and where do you discuss details? Do you do this in person or email or something? Do you all get together and discuss plans over dinner? Have a special sub-forum on MFF? I believe you said you have as many as 40 people involved. It can be impossible to get that many people in the same place at the same time to plan events, right?
[kw] February starts the hot phase to fix most points. In March, the event mostly finished. Then we start to contact sponsors with presentations. We build a working plan where all necessary actions are documented in a special sub-forum not seen by regular users. It’s open the whole year. The plan is part of the sub-forum, and there are teams for area management, electric, entrance, payment, and so on.
[bd] Wow. You guys have this down to an art. I am seriously impressed.
[kw] You must share the actions. The event is so large,without these special teams it will end in fiasco.
[bd] You are absolutely correct. The demand for volunteers increases as the number of attendees grows. When you send out proposals to potential sponsors, what are you asking of them? And what are you offering them in exchange?
[kw] We’re not interested in money. The event is funded by the participants. Sponsors we ask for donations of their products – like for a raffle.
[bd] Good to hear you put the participants first. I love that.
[kw] Our offer includes to distribute flyers, hang up flags, make online banners, link their websites. The event is calculated as zero profit. In Germany, you must pay high taxes on surpluses. So we try to avoid them.
That’s the reason why ET is one of the cheapest events in the year. 15 Euro for the whole weekend. We could also take 20 to 25 Euro, but for what? For the Tax? For government?
[bd] Would you like to one day do this sort of thing full-time? That is, would you like to quit your day job and be a professional automotive community/event organizer? Why or why not?
[kw] I don’t want to do this, professionally. I’m very happy with my real job at the railways. It’s a bone cracking job – very hard, considering weather conditions, nights and days – but its the perfect opportunity for planning the whole year for the next event. You would not believe how many good ideas I’ve had during night shifts on the track – and how often I could not wait to go home and tell my friends in the team my new plans.
I also have to thank my family very much. My brother, uncle, mother – all of them over the years have become Mitsubishi enthusiasts and are all involved in the event.
Best of my skills are my ability to organize, my reliability and the contacts I’ve made over the years I’ve been in the Mitsubishi scene. It’s enough! I’m very happy for that. But I need an other side – a withdrawal point to get new power and motivation, find new ideas for things to do.
Doing this full-time, my work maybe could be more efficient, sure, but it’s the mix from hobby and real job – both of them – really to appreciate. With a full time event manager, it might become easier. In the way I do, each new idea is a challenge for myself – like a little adventure. And very often even this is it – an adventure. This brings the most fun.
LOOKING AHEAD TO THE FUTURE
[bd] Looking ahead through 2015 and beyond, can you tell us about one of your big priorities? Why is this item important?
We began in 2014 to build up our Facebook presence to get much more exposure to Mitsubishi fans. The classical forums like ours maybe are not still the first place to find other people with the same flavor and interest, so we try to generate the first contact on Facebook and lure them in with interesting reports and postings the fans to our forum. The initiative is started in September 2014 and after a half year we a grown from 500 fans on Facebook to over 6,000.
This path will play an important part in our strategy for the rest of the year. The more people we reach this way, the more we increase the attractiveness of our forum.
[bd] With limited space at the Sportplatz in Pretzsch each year – and selling out so quickly – do you think you will move ET to a larger venue, or does the relative scarcity of spaces translate to greater demand? How will ET and MFF evolve in the future?
[kw] Yes, the sports area in Pretzsch has limited space, but we won’t change. In the last years, some other events changed the location and sank after that.
In our location at the sports area, we have optimal conditions – showers, toilets, electrical power – enough for all participants. And, by the way, we are the largest event in Germany with the best reputation over the years. We no longer have to prove anything to anyone.
350 to 370 cars are enough. We must not grow larger. So the event is a little bit exceptional. The guests are proud to take part and participation is a great thing for most of them. They look forward to the next Elbetreffen right after the last event ends.
If we got larger, the familiar character would get lost. When there is, somehow, another Mitsubishi event getting better and more popular, then we might take actions to mobilize maybe other locations and other concepts. But at the moment we are the leaders and concentrate on optimizing our work to serve the German Mitsubishi fans. As long we find new ideas to give keep things interesting, the growing path has no priority.
[bd] Who would you like to thank, directly, for their help – MFF, ET, or otherwise?
[kw] My special thanks to my team in the MFF and at the ET. In both there is a team of maybe 40 selfless and idealistic friends who share most of my views – to serve the scene, to help the fans and drivers, to have a lot of fun together. Thanks to the family, who discharge me from lot of other problems to find the time for Mitsubishi. Thanks also to Mitsubishi Motors Deutschland – especially to my friend Stefan Büttner (scene contact after sales management) – for the exemplary and fruitful partnership – I’m very proud of that.
[bd] What advice would you have for anyone who would like to organize an event like ET elsewhere in the world?
[kw] And advice? Not easy. I see myself as a neverending learning man, but one thing over time was always important – hear what the people say. Listen to their wishes, integrate them in the development, inform them about all, be highly transparent, let them think about and give feedback.
One thing over time was always important – hear what the people say. Listen to their wishes, integrate them in the development, inform them about all, be highly transparent, let them think about and give feedback.
Only in this way I see a chance to form an event in which others see themselves and would be proud to take part. Maybe this is the secret of the success on MFF and Elbetreffen. Give back to the people and fans as much as you can. Let them take part as good as it could be.
[bd] You have done very well with this event. It is special any way you look at it. Maybe I can help them understand. Why do you do it, Kai?
[kw] LOVE. Simply, LOVE. For the make, and for the friends I found in the scene.