Welcome to Germany

Holidays are not something that figure large in my life and we’ve been promising to visit to our friends Matthias and Sonja in the Ruhr valley for so long it had become a joke. As Matthias put it, “The kids would like you to come and stay before they leave home.”

We flew to Dusseldorf airport; now I’m not a great fan of air travel – it’s not that I’m airsick or frightened – after all the terminal velocity of a falling body means that if you jump out of a plane from any altitude you will only hit the ground at about 130mph which is no different to a head on collision at 65mph – something I’d rather avoid but it doesn’t keep me off the road. No, it’s the hassle. I thought we’d got away with it – we were sitting in the departure room, the plane ticking over just outside when suddenly a tannoy announced a fire in the building and everybody evacuate. With commendable aplomb all the passengers ignored it and I hoped that being just a few yards from the plane iwe might fly off and leave the fire brigade to deal with it; but no. We joined the rest of the day’s wayfarers on the runway and had to troop back in an hour later and go through the passport rigmarole again, this time against the clock, with our plane anxious to depart. Why the metal detector decided that I had become a ferrous object by this time I don’t know – probably pollution from the runway – but it was shoes off and search for me. Alarmingly the image on the screen suggested the metal object was around my buttock area but fortunately the search didn’t become intrusive. Later I realised it was probably down to my having replaced the broken ‘cinch’ back buckle on my jeans with a sturdy brass one from a gas mask case but whatever the cause it was an unwanted hold up at a stressful time and I had to run after Judy in untied shoes, clutching my bags in one hand and the waistband of my trousers in the other.

Never did see any flames or smoke either…

Anyway that was the only downside we had a great time – and of course found a bit of old bike action. Matthias took us to the vintage rally at Ibbenburen, further north toward Bremen. We cruised up there in his 1960 Buick Invicta, which accommodated four adults and two children in  comfort with perfect sightseeing afforded by the panoramic windows and thin pillars.

The rally reminded me very much of our own West Kent Run but with a greater proportion of pre-war machines, most of them Continental making a very interesting change of scene. Amongst them there were several bikes with UK plates – on the front at least – but with local plates on the rear so I guess these have been exported from over here in recent years.

This BSA vee twin was particularly interesting because it’s been fitted with a JAP engine in place of its original. I tried to explain to the owner in my appalling German that I fitted a Blackburne engine into my first ’20s BSA, as I daresay like me he got a lot of people asking ‘if BSA fitted these engines as standard?’ It had been neatly done and I really liked the spare spark plug holder on the fork girder.

 The speedometer drive was also interesting with what I take to be a gear reduction system; some early speedo drives are even harder to obtain than the clocks themselves so I wonder if this was an imaginative way to get a mismatched gearbox to drive at the correct ratio.

Among the other Ancient Britons was this old Ajay twin with very non-Ancient (and presumably non-Briton) passenger…

And of course wherever you go you can’t avoid stumbling across another Martinsyde…

This is an early (1920) model, badged Martinsyde-Newman, referring to Howard Newman (whose family manufactured The Ivy motorcycle) who sold the engine design to Martinsyde. He said the bike ran very well on the run. It was a recent purchase for the Dutch owner who has a collection of very nice early machines, including this 1906 Condor, made in Switzerland and Believed to be the earliest survivor, it is in superb un-restored condition and had happily completed the previous day’s run.

The Condor marque is probably best known for its Swiss military models – particularly the post-war shaft-driven flat twin and the early ’70s Ducati-engined A350, but I certainly didn’t know the company dated back as far as this.

In the 1920s and ‘thirties, Europe was a lucrative market for British proprietary manufacturers, engines, gearboxes, forks, carburettors from Britain are often to be found on Continental machines like this smart Daimant above with its JAP engine. After the Depression years Blackburne must have been virtually dependant on export for their business as almost all of the small British companies that used their engines had been weeded out during the lean times.

This 1929 Wurttembergia is fitted with a 350cc Blackburne OHV sports motor and the flat tank model below has a 550sv… both employing Bruman gearboxes with what looks like a Brown and Barlow carb on the OHV bike and an Amal on the flat tanker. Apparently Wurttembergia fitted Blackburne engines to most of their machines but with the rise of National Socialism, use of imported engines was frowned upon and the company died.

 Zundapp probably only got away with making this Rudge engined (and gear-boxed) model by offering to make sidecar outfits for the Army…

The NSU is a classy and rather rakish looking bit of kit I think…

I also liked this 250cc BMW, I haven’t seen one this early before…

There was a pretty good selection from Imperia…

D Rad were represented…

Along with Ardie…

And of course DKW.

And Matthias was delighted to find this Bleha – which we think may be the only survivor.

Matthias has recently bought his first vintage bike – this 1929 two stroke RMW, made in his area of the Ruhr valley at Neheim. The Bleha was the earliest incarnation of the RMW so it was good to talk to the owner.

But there were plenty of bikes there that were neither British nor German; Terrot from France were well represented – I particularly liked this stylish-looking model…

And of course Belgium supplied the FN…

And a couple from Motosacoche kept the Swiss in the frame.

Indians too made it over the Altantic; the Iron Redskin and its Milwaukee rival sold well in Europe between the wars…

And speaking of those two disastrous breakdowns in communication that blackened the 20th century, we had two wheeled survivors from both sides on hand…

While Tommy Atkins was popping about on his Model H Triumph, his German counterpart would quite probably have been aboard one of these, a Wanderer. I think this one was a 1915 model.

 On the other hand I wonder if this Norton 16H  is a veteran of World War 2. When the British Expeditionary Force left France via Dunkirk a lot of equipment – bikes included – stayed behind and perhaps this was one of them. I remember reading about some impromptu sand racing on the beach at Dunkirk which was justified to officers as ‘scuppering’ the bikes before they fell into enemy hands! For those of us lucky enough to have been spared active military service it seems hard to believe that in that horrible rat-trap anybody could have thought about creating a bike race – but then if the option was trying to dig yourself into the sand, waiting to get shelled or strafed from the air, having a tear up on a bike could be a very good way to take your mind off things.

Our visit to Germany coincided with the 75th anniversary of the Dambusters raid and Matthias, who is employed by the  German water board and used to work at the Mohne Dam took us to visit.

Looking at the scene today, the huge structure dotted with families, dog walkers and tourists it is hard to imagine what really happened here. Matthias’ mother recalled knowing an old man who had been a young gunner on the dam defences, he was  armed with just a machine gun because the dam was thought to be an impossible target. The raid took some time because of the difficulty and the number of passes needed before the dam breached, allowing many of the local population – including the young gunner – to evacuate. The power station in the lee of the dam was of course wiped out but the real problems came further down at Neheim where the Mohne meets the Ruhr. War is war and nobody expects it to be civilised but the loss of civilian life was truly terrible – especially since the greater proportion of it was prisoner labour from other countries, locked up for the night in their huts. Over subsequent days, even more civilians perished due to a lack of water to extinguish fires from further bombing raids. Having been brought up on a diet of old war films – the Dam Busters being one of the most popular – I found actually visiting a scene of such a disaster a very sobering event that makes you wonder how the world manages to go so  wrong. Through motorcycles, I have met very good people of all nationalities and made valued and lasting friendships; maybe if more people were into old bikes the world would be a better place – but we knew that already didn’t we?

And finally, most of us struggle with space. One of the reasons I steer clear of classic cars is that they take up the space of six bikes in a garage but Matthias came up with an ingenious – and  useful – way to house the enormous Buick.

When he built his double-garage, as well as making it extra long, he made it extra high to accommodate a four-poster car lift, bought cheaply from a garage which was closing down. Once the car is up in the air, the bikes are wheeled beneath – a couple of suitably positioned acro props guarding against any disasters; end of storage problem – and opening the workshop door to find a low flying American car makes a pretty good talking point!

Cheers Rick

 

Comment (1)

  1. Raymond Albeson

    Glad you had a good time with Matthais and his family. There are so many interesting European manufacturers that we rarely see. It would be nice for a bit of variety to see some Terrots, Puchs and the like at some runs over here.

    Reply

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