Truck drivers have big heart for small children

Reading time approx. 4 minutes
Text: Dr. Bernd Seydel, Juliane Gringer
Photos: Dr. Bernd Seydel

When around 125 trucks drive onto the large motorway service area in Schwabhausen, near Gotha in the German state of Thuringia, quite a few of the people watching have tears in their eyes and goosebumps . This is because there’s a child in every driver’s cab that is enjoying a very special happy day today. ‘A Happy Day of Life’ is the name of the annual charity event that gives children and young people from difficult backgrounds the opportunity to go for a ride in a real truck.

It’s hard to say for sure whose eyes are shining with more joy during this special moment – the truck driver guiding his vehicle off the motorway into the service area in the German state of Thuringia, or his small passenger, eight-year-old Carlo. Being allowed to sit in the cab of a real 40-tonne truck is a dream for many children. And today, this dream has come true for Carlo – he is one of 100 children who can first take a ride in a truck, then afterwards enjoy a party with fun and games. These children all get to enjoy ‘A Happy Day of Life’ – which is the fitting name of the campaign launched in 2014 by the truck drivers’ initiative Bewegen mit Herz e. V. to allow disadvantaged children to enjoy at least one very special day a year.

A 12-kilometre convoy

‘We invite children and young people from local children’s homes to come and enjoy an unforgettable experience,’ says Ulrike Müller, chairwoman of Bewegen mit Herz e.V. and one of the organisers of the event. In the morning, the trucks met in the courtyard of a logistics company in Erfurt. Then the passengers arrived – kids from various local children’s homes and facilities. Once there, they got to choose which driver they wanted to join in the cab. Carlo chose the white truck from haulier Johs. Martens. Then the trucks set off on the journey with ‘their’ children as part of a convoy more than 12 kilometres long via the A4 motorway towards Gotha. Their destination: the SVG Gotha/Schwabhausen motorway service area. Upon entering the large parking lot, the trucks all began to honk their horns – a touching moment.

Helping others brings joy

Susanne Martens-Ulrich, member of the management board of haulier Spedition Johs. Martens, explains her motivation to participate in the event: ‘When does a haulier have the opportunity to directly do something so special for children?’ The company supports ‘A Happy Day of Life’ both as a sponsor and with a team on location. This year Spedition Johs. Martens even brought two trucks along. ‘We also donate to organisations in Hamburg that help children, but we are especially happy to be part of this truck ride and the party afterwards, because it is seldom so easy to directly see the difference you are making. It’s simply wonderful to watch the children enjoying the day from the bottom of their hearts – and also to see how the drivers clearly do as well.’ The latter all take part on a volunteer basis – their time with the kids does not count as a day of work. The participating hauliers must also schedule the vehicles so that the trucks are used as close as possible to the event location. Nevertheless, it can easily still add up to several hundred additional kilometres. But, as Martens-Ulrich says: ‘The happiness in the eyes of the children makes the additional cost more than worth it.’

»The happiness in the eyes of the children makes the additional cost more than worth it.«

Susanne Martens-Ulrich, member of the management board of haulier Spedition Johs. Martens

The idea for Johs. Martens’ sponsorship of the event came from one of the haulier’s employees. In 2016, Lars Kuntzmann, also the third chairman of Bewegen mit Herz e. V., asked his manager Susanne Martens-Ulrich if she wanted to support the association and its initiative. Martens-Ulrich immediately agreed – and had a brilliant idea for how the company could also contribute to the party after the ride: ‘Among other things, our trucks are also used to transport gas. So what could be more natural than providing a stand with balloons?’ Since then, Johs. Martens has regularly participated in the children’s party.

The balloons filled with helium are released into the sky in the evening. Before that, each child has the chance to hang a card with a wish on his or her balloon. What they write on the cards is quite touching, and includes everything from a scented bubble bath to the desire to spend another day with mum or dad.

Celebrity backing

Harmonica player Michael Hirte supports the Bewegen mit Herz e.V. association as a celebrity sponsor. The musician won the TV show Das Supertalent in 2008 and has been known throughout Germany ever since. He himself was a truck driver for many years until he was involved in a serious car accident in 1991, leaving him blind in one eye and unable to work in his profession – then music gave him a new lease on life.
Harmonica player Michael Hirte supports the Bewegen mit Herz e.V. association as a celebrity sponsor. The truck drivers’ initiative organises the two charitable events ‘A Happy Day of Life’ and ‘Happy Christmas’ every year, supporting underprivileged families with children.

Regular meetings between truck drivers and the motorway police

The officers of the Thuringia motorway police are also on board with the project. Today police superintendent Andrea Möller from the Winsen/Luhe motorway police is in plain clothes, however, and is chatting in front of haulier Johs. Martens’ stand. She is a major supporter of regular meetings between truck drivers and the motorway police, where the two groups have the chance to sit down with each other in a relaxed atmosphere once a month. Each meeting focuses on a specific topic – in addition to the permanent issues of load securing or technical defects on heavy goods vehicles, current legal changes, social regulations, first aid or cooperation with the fire brigade have also all been on the agenda.
Over 100 children spent an unforgettable afternoon playing and having fun together with the truck drivers during the ‘A Happy Day of Life’ event – which also featured plenty of horsepower, of course.

Giving the gift of an emotional experience

To the children, ‘A Happy Day of Life’ is more than just a ride in the cab of a large truck. On this day, each driver temporarily ‘adopts’ their young guest, and the two enjoy the party together. After all, there is a lot to see and experience – large or small, no one is left sitting on the mighty bucking mechanical bull. At the high striker or the speed bag, the kids have a chance to demonstrate their strength. Eight-year-old Carlo is particularly courageous and allows himself to be tossed into the air in a rescue sheet by the Schwabhausen fire brigade.

Susanne Martens-Ulrich from haulier Spedition Johs. Martens also likes the fact that on this day, the truck drivers can demonstrate that some of the preconceptions people have towards them and their vehicles are simply not true: ‘People constantly complain about the nasty trucks that clog up the cities and get in the way on the motorway. Yet they rarely think about the people behind the wheel doing their job with a great sense of responsibility and an even bigger heart. This event shines a spotlight on them, so people can see what a wonderful thing they are doing for the children here.’ And last but not least, there are also many beautiful vehicles to admire on this day, making the event a special kind of trucking event – a truck show with heart.

In 1979, singer Johnny Hill’s song ‘Ruf Teddybär 1-4’ (Call Teddy Bear 1-4) was a big hit. In it, he recites a poem set to music about a lonely boy that uses his late father’s CB radio. The idea behind the ‘A Happy Day of Life’ charity event is based on this song.
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