Klaus Billep has been driving for as long as he can remember. First, on his dad’s lap in the family car – an East German “Trabi.” At that time, the family didn’t think much about the risks or the fact that this was not allowed. “I was seven when I first drove a car alone,” remembers Billep, now sixty years old. His father wanted little Klaus to wash the car in the field behind the house, and let the young boy drive over there unaccompanied.
Since 2012, Klaus Billep has been working as a driver at the MDC, and for several years has also been the coordinator of the driver/reception team. He and his colleagues Mike Brüggert and Alexander Kerrmann take MDC board members or heads of research groups to and from events, carry out transport assignments, and make trips for banking, material, and organizational purposes. The MDC’s vehicle fleet consists of two medium-sized cars and one minibus, and Billep’s team is also responsible for the maintenance of these vehicles as well as any minor repairs.
Billep learned how to keep engines in good shape during his training as an agricultural technician/mechanic in the GDR in the late 1970s. “After my army days, however, there wasn’t much money to be made in agriculture, so I switched jobs,” says Billep. He started working as a driver in 1983, initially for the “main contractor for complex housing construction” in Berlin. Later, he chauffeured board members of the Peasants Mutual Aid Association (VDGB) to and from meetings. Following reunification, he was employed as a driver by the R+V insurance company, before working for other firms in the financial sector through recommendations. “During the banking crisis, drivers were let go,” says Billep. After two years as a freelance courier, Billep applied for a job as a facilities caretaker at the MDC, but the position had already been filled. Then, a job as a “driver for passenger transport” was advertised.
Taking first and third place
Klaus Billep has now been at the MDC for more than seven years, which he says is a long time for a driver. The most important thing for him is to provide his passengers with the greatest possible safety on the road. “That’s why I've been campaigning for us drivers to take regular safety training courses to refresh our knowledge and skills,” he says. After all, he explains, the technology inside cars is changing all the time, and it can be good to push vehicles to their limit from time to time – though not one’s own car, which would suffer from such strenuous training.
“In hazardous situations, you can recall in a split second what you have learned,” he says. The MDC team was able to showcase its skills and know-how at one such driving safety courses last fall, which saw Klaus Billep and Mike Brüggert take first and third place respectively in the final competition between 60 professional drivers from all over Germany. All the hazardous situations that had been rehearsed were completed one after the other on a timed course, and Billep came out as the fastest fault-free driver.
During the training, the drivers honed their skills in various Mercedes models, from the A-Class to more sporty versions. In one of the exercises, participants had to drive up to an obstacle, swerve left or right to avoid it – the direction was indicated shortly before they reached the obstacle by a traffic light – then get back on the marked lane without knocking over any traffic cones. In another, all drivers had to make an emergency stop on command while traveling at 150 km/h. “To do this, you have to put 80 kilos on the brake pedal, which almost nobody managed to do except us,” Billep reports with pride.
“It’s always good to be on the road”
Klaus Billep attributes his skills to routine and decades of experience – although his job now rarely requires him to drive himself; he is more responsible for logistical and organizational matters. Outside of work, however, the professional driver covers about 15,000 kilometers a year to visit his daughter, who lives in the Sauerland. Incidentally, Billep also gained motorway experience at an early age: At eleven, he was allowed to sit between his father’s legs to steer and accelerate all by himself – 80 km/h was the speed limit set by his dad. One time, however, when young Klaus heard a snore and realized that his father had fallen asleep behind him, he accelerated to 100 km/h – that, he says, was the most you could get out of the “cardboard box on wheels.”
He still enjoys driving to this day: “Not just because I like to drive, but because it’s so rewarding when you see how relaxed the passengers are in your car – sometimes even dozing off.” When things get busy at work, he likes to jump in as a driver. “It’s always good to be on the road,” says Billep. “Even though in Berlin, you usually hit stop light after stop light.”
Caption: The MDC-drivers Mike Brüggert (2nd from left) and Klaus Billep (3rd from left) at the award ceremony. Image: Kommunikation, MDC.