Mirror of society
Most of the time, the family met other adventurous travelers on these trips and returned home with new orders. In a barn, Arist Dethleffs then manufactured the first individual pieces and fine-tuned on the trailer body: The once square wooden box on wheels became round, more streamlined and got a coating made of aluminium. In 1936, Arist already had hired six employees – despite the mistrust of his father Albert, who solely saw the future in the production of whips and ski sticks. He was wrong: The Germans loved the new way of travelling. It was the inadequacies of the first caravans which they perceived as pure romance and thus they were willing to pay 2000 Reichsmark and more for their escape into the spartan cosiness. Particularly then, when the interior decoration was designed in the distinctive style of Fridel Dethleffs-Edelmann. In addition, the customers did not sleep on thin foam, but on innerspring mattresses. The Dethleffs family not only sold caravans, but travelled themselves very far.
Soon other manufacturers copied Dethleffs' concept, the Swabian now faced competition. Only the outbreak of war in 1939, abruptly stopped the first bloom of this young industry.
The entrepreneur returned in time from the front in order to take part in the gold-rush fever of the 1950s. During and after reconstruction, the Germans longed for normality and the manufacturing of caravans became the mirror of post-war society: In the past, early models served as an alternative to a tent and weighed just 200 kilograms, now the carvanas grew together with the economic miracle: The rear became wider, the trailer body suddenly measured up to five metres, the overall weight multiplied.
Dethleffs fought with manufacturers like Wilke, Tabbert, Knaus and Bürstner for the growing number of solvent customers. Luxury models already cost around 15.000 Marks during the middle of the 1960s – the price of a Mercedes. It did not take long until the first very primitive trailers turned into heavyweight, pimped apartments on wheels. Of course being equipped with fridge, chemical toilet, waterbed and satellite TV.
From the odd idea of a rolling art studio of the newly in love couple, an industry has long since developed being worth billions. Dethleffs, the small factory of 1931, today employs around 700 workers and last had a turnover of 272 million euros. The times of ski sticks and whips are over – since 1973 only caravans have left the production facilities in the Allgäu. Yet, since 1983 motor caravans, that have become more and more important, complement the company's portfolio.
In 1970, the Dethleffs family sold the company. Arist Dethleffs had become ill and later on also went blind. Wolfgang Thrun and Jakob Eicker, the manufacturers of the TE-Wohnwagen became the new happy owners of Dethleffs. The company kept on growing. In 1980, Erwin Hymer, manufacturer of the Eriba-Wohnwagen and Hymermobile, integrated his company into the new group "CMC-Thrun-Hymer-Eicker-OHG". Today, Erwin Hymer is the sole owner of the group, that has grown continually.
SPIEGEL-ONLINE Wednesday, 02.02.2011 - complemented with new information by Bernd Riedle – nephew of Arist Dethleffs. He was the former Managing Director of the Dethleffs GmbH and Central Managing Director of the CMC group.