Leipzig automobil: 140 years of leipzig car history and a bold look into the possible future of mobility

Kulturstiftung Leipzig (ed.): Leipzig Automobil. F

Photo: ralf julke

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Actually, it is "the year of industrial culture". But there has been little evidence of this so far due to the corona restrictions. Unless, for example, you visit the exhibition "silver on glass" in the museum of urban history, which has been extended until august and shows a lot of photos from the early days of industrialization in leipzig. Or you can now take a look at this special themed volume, published by the "leipziger blatter", which shows the automotive history of leipzig in hundreds of pictures and many facets.

And with most of the stories, even car lovers will find that they knew nothing about it yet. And this despite the fact that the history of the German automobile is always the subject of much debate. the eternal success story that began with benz, otto and horch and went on to unprecedented heights. Quasi germany as a car winner from the very beginning. Which is not quite true.

Of course, the book is a profound contribution to the year of industrial culture. And the authors didn’t come up with the car by chance, because it is the current dominant industrial product from leipzig, with the two large porsche and BMW plants in leipzig’s north. So dominant, in fact, that the question was briefly raised as to whether leipzig should also be declared a car city.

A concern that even peter claussen and siegfried bulow, the two founding plant managers of BMW leipzig and porsche leipzig, clearly declare themselves against in one of the two major interviews that round off the volume. After all, the two plants were not established because leipzig, of all places, needed a new, sleek industrial label, but because the necessary skilled workers could be found here, the location was perfect, and the city simply had a reputation of its own. Or a soul, no matter what you want to call it. This always resonates when leipzig is mentioned as a location.

And it also has a little to do with the curiosity, the love of invention, and the desire to go back to the drawing board, which somehow characterizes the people of saxony. And that, of course, also distinguished all the company founders and inventors who began to revolutionize mobility in leipzig almost 140 years ago.

You can’t really understand the finale with the two model factories in the north if you haven’t first read the meticulously edited history of the automobile in leipzig and saxony, written by several authors who have immersed themselves in the subject and give a face and a name to all the tinkerers and entrepreneurs who, starting in the 1880s, set out in leipzig to bring the automobile of the future onto the market.

And they don’t leave out the important prehistory, without which it’s hard to understand why the development of steam-powered cars, gas, electric and gasoline engines from the 1880s onward was seen by people as a revolution, even though it was to be another 40 years before the passenger cars and trucks that were actually suitable for the masses began to oust horses and carriages from the roads.

At a time when other car nations had long since left the scene – first the french, then the u.s.a. Which is not only due to the famous saying of emperor wilhelm II. lag, who did not give the car a future, but – a not entirely unimportant realization – worked on an unrivaled, well-developed railroad system.

That’s why the book is not only worth reading for car enthusiasts, but also for all people who are now wondering whether we might not need a different kind of mobility in the future. the fact that the car produced on ford’s assembly lines became a million-dollar product in the u.s. has to do with the fact that, away from the sparse rail network (compared to germany), entire rural communities and farms could only be reached by horseback.

what is actually always amazing about the whole cowboy and western history hyped by hollywood is that, from a european perspective, we are shown a strangely backward country where people ride horses and ride in carriages (and only sometimes rob trains) at a time when railroads, (horse)buses and the first streetcars were already running through the cities in europe.

And so the two large photos in the cover also play with visual habits: the first shows the western train station forecourt in front of the hotel continental in the 1920s, dominated by cyclists and horse-drawn vehicles, the second the same situation 100 years later – with streetcars and cars. Cyclists and horse-drawn carriages will not be seen here again so soon.

That’s why there are also separate contributions on the changes in leipzig’s mobility in historic fair times, for example on the old "golden lute" hitching yard on ranstadter steinweg, which was demolished in the 1920s to make way for a large modern motor vehicle yard. A piece of local history that is no longer recognizable from the outside, just as younger people in leipzig are no longer familiar with the small gas station on wilhelm-liebknecht-square, which heinz-jurgen bohme also writes about. When such fixed points disappear from the cityscape, a piece of perceptible urban history also disappears. Which now has to be reconstructed from old archives again.

The history of the leipzig tramway, which has already been dealt with more thoroughly, is somewhat shorter. the leipzig trolleybus history gets a whole chapter, which coincides with the history of the leipzig truck construction, which itself was still unwritten.

This also explains why trucks were the first to start their triumphant run in germany (promoted by, of all things, the 1. World War II) and why passenger cars were still luxury goods for a long time (and the steering wheel was mounted on the right side), although quite a few leipzig inventors were also involved in the development of simple, inexpensive mobile vehicles – such as the legendary three-wheelers, which were actually the first successful "people’s cars" because they were not taxed as luxuriously as, for example, the famous dux and MAF motor cars from leipzig and markranstadt.

And it also explains in an informative way why none of the leipzig carmakers managed to establish themselves as a lasting german car brand, even though their vehicles were top class – but unfortunately also largely handmade until the end, and therefore correspondingly more expensive.

But of all things, electric vehicles from leipzig have become a real sales hit. The "eidechse" from bleichert was used in many GDR companies until 1989. Another aspect that shines into the present, since both porsche and BMW are now increasingly focusing on alternative drive systems.

And in between? With the end of the 2. After all, the end of the Second World War also saw the end of vehicle construction in leipzig, even though small workshops were still assembling vehicles for everyday use. The GDR era was not only the time of the trabant, which had hardly changed for decades. The early days in particular were still characterized by inventive spirit and the attempt to develop an exportable top class.

There is also a profound chapter on this, which admittedly also shows the problems of a planned economy that suffered from a lack of capital right from the start and never really had the necessary money to build modern production lines. This was only achieved with a deal with VW just before the final deadline.

But that saved neither trabi nor wartburg. Today, oldtimer meetings make it clear what attractive vehicles were still being built in the East in the 1950s, and how industrious tinkerers continued to develop cars that could easily hold their own against Western competition in road races and wind tunnels.

it was not due to inventive talent that the germany could not keep up and lagged behind in vehicle construction from the 1960s onwards. Nor is the lack of enthusiasm for sleek vehicles. And on missing roads as well. This is still evident today in the sometimes brutal widening of roads, including the leipzig promenade ring road, which is actually a car ring road that causes more problems today than it solves mobility problems. Which is why michael jana, head of the traffic and civil engineering department, also briefly outlines what a promenade ring could look like in the future.

because the leipzig traffic administration has been working on concepts for a long time, such as those decided by the city council with the "sustainability scenario. The time when priority was given to vehicle traffic is passing. The traffic areas must be divided differently. And the technology will also change, as is being worked on with the self-driving bus project in the north of leipzig and the development of modern digital control systems for traffic flow. But today’s scrapping technology also needs to change. If cars are not completely recyclable in the future, we will simply run out of important raw materials at some point in the future.

In other words: precisely because this richly illustrated volume takes such a close look at the historical development of the automobile and mobility in leipzig, it makes visible what the questions are that inventors, developers, carmakers and administrators are all dealing with today, in order to respond to the simple fact that "the love of the automobile has cooled down" as well.

For decades, it certainly fulfilled needs and met people’s desire for mobility. But in the present, it overwhelms urban structures and doesn’t really solve the problems that arose when once well-connected rail lines were thinned out and whole swaths of land were cut off from development.

A fact that already became clear when the major car companies cancelled their participation at AMI and AMITEC 2016 in Leipzig. Although there are still a few special trade fairs devoted in particular to modern drive technologies and manufacturing techniques. But the automotive industry (also in saxony) is undergoing a major transformation, which even the hotly debated second "scrappage premium" will not change.

So the book is more than a historical reappraisal (which also makes visible all that could still be explored), but also a discussion about what could come now. It is in the much-celebrated technologies in which today’s engineers and politicians see the solution? Or will it – as so often in the past 140 years – turn out completely differently?? A completely open question. Only one thing is certain: it won’t work without attractive mobility offers.

leipzig cultural foundation (hrsg.) leipzig automobile, passage verlag, leipzig 2020, 28 euro.

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