Motorcycle Cities, Hamburg Pt. 2 – Ehinger Kraftrad
From A Trip Back in Time
to Ehinger Kraftrad
Motorcycle Cities dives deeper into moto culture to the urban landscape in Hamburg, Germany. Here’s what happens…
A Trip Back in Time
I headed toward an old abandoned service station that has been restored and converted into a bar. It’s now a gathering place for old cars and old timers. I never thought that I would find myself right in the middle of the 1950s in such an unusual and authentic atmosphere. The building dates back to 1953 and everything has been restored to its original format. Soon it will even be possible to fill up your petrol tank.
The building has a large garage and workshop area, an office area and a bar / restaurant space. Everything is in a very 50s style with the pin-up behind the counter and a Speedster in the workshop. All that’s missing is the garage worker with a cap who comes to fill your tank with gas and wash your windscreen. After this delightful discovery, it’s time to visit two shops with a gentleman rider’s appeal - Riders Room and Vater & Sohn.
Since 1995, Riders Room has been offering gentlemen - and bikers with a taste for retro - the very best in terms of clothing, shoes, and accessories. This shop is one of the oldest brands in Germany, offering Aero aviator jackets and Red Wings shoes.
Besides that, there are also several traditional brands ranging from Levi’s to Vanson Leathers, Edwin, Wrenchmonkees Apparel Co., Davida, Barbour, or the motor oil brand Mathé Chromjuwelen, with its packaging that comes straight out of the F1 paddocks of the 1950s.
Vater & Sohn
A little further north, 10 minutes from there, is the very attractive Vater & Sohn shop. The place is sublime, the selection cutting-edge, and the type of products available extremely varied. This is more of a concept store where you immerse yourself in a retro universe, biker and gentleman, and where you might encounter a craftsperson who makes tailor-made belts by day and organises rock concerts by night.
Next to this, if you are a fan of English or if you want to perform some restoration on your favourite twin, check out Single & Twin, on the north bank of the Elba. They also have a shop space that sells accessories. And then onward I go.
When you read stories about a guy who buys 300 or 400 Harleys in one fell swoop somewhere in South Korea, who sings German folk songs in front of police officers, or who bought a HRD Vincent for 70 dollars because the seller knew more about Alexander Hamilton than Benjamin Franklin, you know that you’re not going to be disappointed by a meeting with this person and a visit to the Ehinger Kraftrad studio.
I had heard tales of the archaeological and South American adventures of Uwe Ehinger, but I didn’t know he was still as active in the world of customisation until I discovered his ‘Snowracer’ at the Art Ride of Wheels & Waves in June 2014. This rigid Harley from 1936, inspired by hill climbing with a VLH engine, stood out from the rest in the hangar in Biarritz.
Impatience Pays Off
So it was with impatience, moving from one warehouse to another, that I returned to his studio in the middle of a network of short canals. We are in the ‘Speicherstadt’ - literally ‘city of warehouses’ - that had been developed between 1885 and 1927 and is, today, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the biggest unified port warehouse complexes in the world. Ehinger Kraftrad can be found in one of the red brick warehouses topped with copper roofs and turrets in the neo-gothic style. That alone is enough…
When I finally arrive, Uwe welcomes me and shows me around the space. We settle into the ultra-comfortable leather sofas in a corner of the studio with soft lighting. Uwe begins to tell me his story, about his beginnings and his love of motorbikes and the simplicity of things. I should have taken it all down, or in any case asked to record it all, but I simply listened. Luckily for me, and for those who want to know more, there is a book about him: Rusty Diamonds, A Kraftrad Journey by Uwe Ehinger. I highly recommend it, if only for the beauty of the object itself.
“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
An Early Love
Uwe got into motorbikes at the age of six at his uncle’s home on a hacienda in Argentina. After watching Easy Rider at the age of 17, all he could think about were Harleys. He heard an old police Harley was being auctioned in Belgium. If I’m not mistaken, it was a 76/77 Knucklehead. As he was only 17, he asked his older brother for his paperwork and managed to return to Hamburg where he was studying by riding back behind the handlebars (that’s between us). From 1979 to 1989, came a period of titanic research in the four corners of the world into the universe of motorbikes in general, but mainly into Harleys. He would seek out bikes, buy them, import them, sell them, etc. There are as many anecdotes and improbable situations in the book as there are motorbikes listed.
In 2008, with his partner, Katrin Oeding, he launched Ehinger Kraftrad. This design and development studio designs and produces bikes that are out of the ordinary, unique and made to measure (as testified by his 2nd place at the AMD with the Snowracer in the ‘Modified Harley-Davidson Class’ category). But he doesn’t stop at motorbikes. He also develops and produces an entire range of motorbike parts and accessories, mainly Harley, and he has launched a leather clothing and accessory line branded ‘Ehinger Kraftrad’ that you can find at Vater & Sohn. Since then, a while after my visit, he unveiled his latest special: the ‘Speedster.’ This bike, with its UL Flathead ‘37 engine, is inspired by the racers from the 1920s. The engine was designed for the Born Free motorcycle, on which it was by far the most beautiful Flathead, as can be seen in the distinction it received for it. Personally, I have rarely seen such coherent advanced aesthetics and such detail in the finish.
Indeed, this coherence is what I find when I compare what he told me with his work that I have been able to discover in more detail since. He takes some liberties in his choices and he is not afraid to go against trends, or in any case, to follow a philosophy that suits him.
This loyalty leads to results that are his alone, with a big personality and distinction. His specials are pure and simple, but simultaneously complex. He is quick to quote the famous phrase by St-Exupéry: “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
The Last Ride
After this visit to Ehinger Kraftrad, I needed to ride, to get away, digest the moment. I head towards the Elbchaussee. This road turns out to be perfect for it: long and wide, with fast bends and trees that line both sides of the road. All along the water’s edge with an unbeatable view of the port while driving by some of the most beautiful houses in Hamburg.
I bring my ride to an end at the foot of the church of St. Michaelis. It seems that every year in the month of June, more than 30,000 bikers and 100,000 spectators get together here for the Motorcycle Church Services or MoGo (Motorrad-Gottesdienst). It is one of the biggest gatherings of its kind in Europe. Hoping that the gods will bless me too, I take to the road again… On ze road agaaaaaain!
Stolen but Not Forgotten
Unfortunately, soon after my visit to Hamburg, my little silver film Canon was stolen containing some of the colour snaps I wanted to share with you here.
Oh well, that’s the way it is. A sense of the incomplete, imperfect and raw... in the end, it’s just like Hamburg.
Words & Photos by
The man behind Motorcycle Cities. An independently published magazine that we just happened to stumble upon during a leisurely Saturday afternoon stroll through Antwerp.
Want to read more stories about the heart of the Urban motorcycle scene, the builders that drive the future, and the people at the heart of it? Great! You’re in the right place. Check out the rest of our journals and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, so you never miss a beat.