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Every morning the crowds gather in the lobby of the Caravan Salon RV show in Dusseldorf, Germany. When the clock strikes 10 a.m., the herd of people moves quickly through the controlled turnstiles. This, the show’s 7th day, is no exception. And the crowds, with only three more days to go before this gigantic, annual RV event closes until next fall, are still impressive.
Clearly, the people entering the facility are RV enthusiasts — or, at the very least, are serious enough to be considering getting into the lifestyle. What seems like miles of RVs stacked like cordwood await the potential buyers.
You can see (by their animated expressions) and hear (because I learned enough German to eavesdrop at bit) that the Caravan Salon visitors have fuel costs on their minds. Yet, the excitement of the show and the lifestyle keeps them moving from rig to rig, looking for the perfect unit. They apparently are determined not to let the fuel prices and a worrisome economy spoil the fun of hitting the road. They’re clearly infatuated with the freedom of the open road — even though European roads are not exactly spacious. And, while the camping areas are not anything like those in the U.S., European RV enthusiasts are just as energized about the lifestyle as their American counterparts.
It’s been interesting to note that the European RV builders are picking up the pace on amenities, responding to the demand for satellite dishes, flat-screen TVs and lots of wine-glass holders. They’re focused on light weight designs, but not on Spartan models, like their fathers’ caravans. Surprisingly, air conditioning is not a priority, but, again, that cuts kilograms out of rigs.
I’m still trying to figure out how their itty-bitty passenger cars can tow 20-25-foot travel trailers (caravans), but I’m getting closer to the answers. Weight dynamics and balance are much different, and the Europeans have made a science out of carving kilos out of just about every square inch inside and out. Interior design is very competitive, and fit and finish are superb. Tight regulations control what can be towed, and mandatory towing equipment keeps RVers safe.
After checking out hundreds of RVs, it was time to shift gears and prepare for the First World Conference on RVs, which took place here in conjunction with the show. The evening before, we boarded a ship with the conference speakers, staff and attendees for a cruise down the Rhine. More than 200 people from all over the globe gathered to exchange ideas and toss down a few — well, maybe a little more than a few — beers.
Drinking beer is a competitive sport in Germany — you don’t bother to order another; it’s automatically served as you empty the glass.
Seriously, though, it was fun to see people from all over the world rockin’ to American music classics sung by the ship’s very own “Elvis” impersonator. Conversations were spirited that night, but the focus was on socializing. And one of the main topics of conversation was the slowdown in the RV business, which is not exclusive to the U.S., as evidenced by the concerns almost universally expressed by the leaders of the world’s recreational vehicle industry. The good news: Everyone is convinced that things will get better sooner than later.

Coming Monday: Highlights of the World Conference on RVs.