Tarek Kohler in conversation
If you spend years in a job, it gets to be like a long-term relationship. You know each other well, you cherish one another, but occasionally you get on each other's nerves – sometimes even all these at the same time. The truck driver Tarek Kohler tells us how he establishes routines on his tours and manages to stay in love with his career.
I wanted to be a driver for as long I can remember. I think I must have been born with some truck gene. I grew up on a farm, and the machinery fascinated me even as a little boy. My childhood ideal could best be summarized with the words "big, bigger, and even bigger." If ever a truck roared past, I would watch it vanish into the distance.
Originally I wanted to do an apprenticeship as a commercial driver. In Germany that means training for three years. Unfortunately that didn't pan out for medical reasons. So I simply got my license for driving heavy goods vehicles and looked around for a job. I've been working as a truck driver for 12 years now, the past seven for Gebrüder Weiss. Lots of things have changed since I entered the profession. There's lots of automation. For example, almost every new truck nowadays has an automatic distance sensor, a lane departure warning system and, of course, automatic transmission. (When I learned to drive, I was still using a gear stick.) Not to mention attention assist technology that warns you when you have been on the autobahn for a long time. "You're getting tired, please take a break!" There are lots of advantages to this but I sometimes miss getting to decide or fix something for myself.
My tours start usually early, so I typically arrive at work between 5:30 and 6:30 in the morning and report to the transportation desk. For the most part I find out my schedule the evening before. I get my cargo list and go to the warehouse to load my truck – if somebody hasn't already done it for me. Before I hit the road, I conduct a few quick tests, checking the tire pressure with a hammer and making sure the lights, connections, electrical system and freight are all in order.
Depending on the customer and the route I am driving, I'll then spend between nine and eleven hours on the road – including breaks. We're allowed to drive for six hours at a time. After that, a 45-minute break is mandatory. Then I can drive for another six hours. So if I set off at 6 a.m., I need to be having lunch at the latest by noon.
I used to cover long-distance routes before I joined GW. In those days I started out at Sunday lunchtime and returned home the following Saturday afternoon. During the week I would spend every night at a different highway motel. There's no real alternative. You go to the restaurant, grab something to eat, down a cup of coffee, read a bit and then have an early night. You have to find a way of winding down after all the driving so that you feel fresh the following morning.
I'm a floater now so I always drive on our own lines and routes. My favorite is the night line, the connection with GW Graz. I drive from Memmingen to Salzburg, where I meet up with my buddy coming from GW Graz. We exchange our swap bodies there. Then he takes “my” body back to Graz and I take his to a partner company in Munich. They then give me a new load and I head back to Memmingen.
For the most part, it's the same procedure every day on my job. I stop at the same stops and know the people I see on my travels. You wouldn't necessarily think of them as friends but there are people I encounter on a regular basis and then we might sit down for a meal together. Greeting each other on the road used to be standard practice. If a truck passed you on the highway, you flashed your lights or your turn signals twice to say it was safe to pull in again. Unfortunately, those days are over. There's not as much cooperation between cars and trucks either. Lots of drivers curse at you from their cars. Some pass you and then pull back in right under your nose. But I have an autonomous cruise control system that intervenes instantly and starts braking. You have to have your wits about you and take your foot off the gas immediately. But there's no point getting worked up about it. It's better to take it all in your stride.
Relations with our customers are usually friendly because I know so many of them personally. At one customer's in Switzerland I have been known to drive up and find the warehouse staff enjoying a barbecue. And for them it's the most natural thing in the world to invite me to join them. "Come on over, sit down and have a bite to eat. There's enough for us all."
I'm currently driving on the Switzerland line and every time I cross the border, I park the truck and treat myself to a snack. I always buy it at the same time – usually between 11 and 11:30 a.m. – at the Feurstein butcher's shop in Höchst. I swan in and order my two meatloaf rolls. And they always welcome me with the same words: "My, my! It's our Swabian again!" That really is a moment to warm the cockles of your heart.
Judith Gebhardt-Dörler studied Social and Economic Sciences in Innsbruck. As Project Manager Corporate Communications at GW, she is responsible for publications.