Urban Moto CultureMotorcycle Cities hopes to introduce moto culture to the urban landscape. What harmony is there between a city and these motorized machines? Who are the people that ride them and spend their days with them? Read on to find out…
Hamburg, an industrial and mercantile city with 1.8 million inhabitants. It’s the second largest city in Germany and the country’s primary port on the estuary of the river Elbe. This Hanseatic city is my destination on a November day on my ’89 Ducati 750 Sport. The city appears on the horizon… our first contact is a special moment. What will I see? How will I find my markers to avoid getting lost?
GPS is not a feature on my dashboard and the notes that are stuck to my fuel tank turn out to be less efficient than expected. Apprehension and curiosity reign. The first impression is what remains in our memories; it’s irreplaceable. When all is done, one thing is certain: Hamburg will always be reminiscent of a nice feeling. It’s hard to explain, and there are some clichés and ideologies to overcome: here is a small glimpse…
I’m arriving at full tilt along the A7 motorway. HH Centre is the direction to follow; things are clear, and above all, efficient. For the moment, there’s no need to slow the pace, no need to look like a tourist either. In terms of atmosphere, I couldn’t have asked for more. The sun is setting and there are no clouds on the horizon; creating a blue and orange veil over the busy port to my left. The rivets and screws of the steel frame of the bridge I am crossing draw my attention – this is it; I am entering a truly industrial city, just the way I like them.
A first Porsche overtakes me on the right. I had indeed slowed my pace. I accelerate again, and a little further to my right, an old red brick factory dominates the landscape. And of course, as though planned, a huge ‘Castrol’ sign is bolted to the roof of this building. I feel in my element: nothing is sleek - it’s all raw, it’s all real. Later on I learn that the factory with the Castrol sign is now home to a company that makes medical products and equipment (Hans Hepp GmbH & Co. KG), including first-aid kits for bikers, which just goes to show…
A Two-Fold Mission
After this spectacular beginning, it’s time to catch up with the Porsche that I accidentally allowed to get by me. Aaah, I can see several of them, all purring. I believe I’m going to enjoy myself here. Nothing had been planned or programmed for my trip to Hamburg and I have a feeling that this is the right approach to this city and those who live in it. Nevertheless, I had two dreams... to see the famous Guzzi by Kaffeemaschine with my own eyes and to discover the incredible story (or rather stories and anecdotes) of Uwe Ehinger.
When I have some time on my hands, I decide to make use of it by calling Axel Budde, the founder of Kafeemaschine. I ask him if I can stop by, but I sense hesitation: he doesn’t want to be disturbed at work. Time is precious and the curious are many. But after talking for a while, when I explain my intentions, Axel agrees to let me drop by, very quickly... It’s a good thing that’s what I specialize in.
To the south of central Hamburg in a less industrial, more social and residential area is Wilhelmsburg. What makes this district special is that its 50,000 inhabitants all live on an island closed off by the northern and southern branches of the Elbe. The Kaffeemaschine garage is tucked away on one of these streets. Axel Budde came to live in Hamburg around fifteen years ago. For him, Wilhelmsburg was the ideal compromise between access to the countryside and to the center of the city. It’s also more easily accessible, quieter, and less influenced by current trends.
It’s high time I visited, because I have known about the Kaffeemaschine specials for some time now, without really knowing who was behind this garage. A person? A collective? A workshop where everything is done ‘in-house’? A network of craftspeople and partners? A shed or an extraordinary workshop? In any case, the choice to discover Hamburg is strongly linked to my desire to see the Kaffeemaschines in the flesh; the work of Axel Budde who has been running the shop for almost 5 years.
This is why, surprised to see me spring out of nowhere on a bike, Axel welcomes me with a coffee that he grinds and prepares himself using an old, authentic, and beautiful coffee machine. I enter his world immediately, and I have the feeling that the hard part is over, although, in between his welcome and his coffee, my eyes and my concentration are drawn towards the bikes. It’s impossible to hold a conversation - I actually spill my coffee on the garage floor, no joke. His Guzzis are simply magnificent and the journey has been well worth it. I pull myself together and concentrate on his latest special, the KM15, a splendid 1000SP dressed in black and green for maximum effect. It will be embellished with the new KM logo, as the graphic identity has just been revamped.
While discussing this change in graphics, I make a note of some of his thoughts on the question of his profession and the custom sector in general. How will Guzzi evolve as a constructor? He has some ideas about that. How will the motorcycle and custom world progress? This is harder to predict, but it does not seem to suffer from the ill-effects of passing trends and has built up a great clientele that is mature and loyal and able to invest in something that, for them, is a form of authenticity and a reminder of youth. His clientele is mainly in the 40 – 50 age bracket, well-off, from Germany and neighboring countries. In one way or another, he manages to keep the nosy ones away, the ones who risk wasting his oh so precious time to concentrate on the essence of his work.
“A recognizable, toned-down, minimalistic aesthetic is his hallmark, a personal, but advanced interpretation of the café-racer.”
Piece By Piece
I love his style and appreciate his craft. A recognizable, toned-down, minimalistic aesthetic is his hallmark, a personal, but advanced interpretation of the café-racer. The basis is mainly the Moto Guzzi Le Mans 3 and 4. In fact, it seems to have been made for this kind of transformation. To my mind, Axel Budde has no equal in the field of Moto Guzzi customization and few are those who can combine minimalism, detail, and work as he does.
The motorcycles are built slowly, carefully, piece by piece. The style, or rather the signature, is immediately recognizable and yet they are all very different in terms of detail, whether in the bodywork, the paint, or the accessories the bike contains. Each special is an excuse for Axel to push back his technical and aesthetic limits and to move forward with his research and development.
The Future’s History
Meanwhile, discussions are crisscrossing between Hamburg’s history and industry, his specials and the life of a craftsman, along with the difficulty in juggling between his life as an artist and craftsman and the daily demands of running a business. He talks to me about his other machines, lathes, and milling machines that he uses as the tools for his creation and that are mainly German-made.
The foundry that makes some of his tools and machines also has its origins in Hamburg. Heidenreich & Harbeck was this steel manufacturer, also responsible for the Cap San Diego cargo ship. This majestic cargo ship is 159 meters long and can be found in the port of Hamburg. Today it is used as a civil museum (the largest boat-museum in the world, actually). A lovely page of local history and know-how is open before our very eyes, and he gets to use it every day.
With that, I am on my way again and Axel points me towards some new places for petrolheads in Hamburg…
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.