23rd November 2006
If you fancy seeing something of the classic bike scene on mainland Europe, then Phil Speakman has a suggestion, should you find yourself with a spare weekend next summer...
Find yourself kicking your heels in mid August? Perhaps a long weekend on the continent might just relieve that itchy feet feeling you get between trips…
When my employer wanted me to pop over to Amsterdam for a week last summer, they happily agreed that I could go on my bike a few days early as long as I was there for the Tuesday morning. You see, I had a plan!
One channel tunnel return trip was booked and expensed to them. On the Friday morning I loaded up my 2003 Tiger 955i and we sploshed out into horrendous rain for the 270 miles or so to the Chunnel (am I the only one who still calls it that?) crossing. The M6 became a stop-start, slinky-spring congested nightmare. Eventually I abandoned it in preference to the easy going nature of the A50, although fording through puddles above my wheel spindles was a new experience. See, now do you believe me when I say it was pretty wet?
It was one of those journeys that you'd never wish to repeat and I wasn't even out of the country. The rest of the evening became a motorway dash through France, Belgium and Holland at 90mph-plus to get the miles under my belt.
Tiredness, residual damp and the first hint of autumn chill eventually forced me to bring the day's journey to a close at 1am on the eastern outskirts of Kassel. I spotted a Motel sign and pulled off -- to discover that the place was open but unmanned. How the hell I only got billed once for the ATM-style transaction at the front door, in a language I barely comprehend, I can't really explain. A door key, attached to a lump of aluminium the size of 500cc piston, dropped from a slot with a resounding thump onto my not-quite-numb-enough toes. Once the pain had subsided I stumbled in the dark to my comfortable room and a warm shower. I never did find the sodding light switch to that corridor.
An 8am start saw me pulling up to the MZ Motorcycle factory gates at Hohndorf just after noon on the Saturday, to be greeted with the crowds who like me were attending the 2006 Emmenrausch (literally translated, it means the roar of the eM's) [Hmmm…. According to my rudimentary 'Race Paddock' German, "Rausch" means drunk or stoned and "Rauch" means smoke. Either of these sound more likely for an MZ rally. RM].
Two campsites would provide ample space for pitching a tent should I feel the need later and I paid my weekend's entrance fee (€10 if I remember correctly) and parked up. I also bid farewell to the two lost young strays I'd found on ETZ 250s outside the old Kaaden Werks at Zschopau and who'd followed me to their new spiritual 'home'.
My Triumph was surrounded by every model of DKW, MZ and Simson I could possibly imagine, from right back to the 1930s to present day. The had a relaxed attitude to health and safety, with people riding in, out and about all day long. There was certainly none of this 'all exhibitors must be on site by 10am and cannot move until 4pm' nonsense. People just came and went of their own accord and common sense prevailed over rights of way. Where did we allow it to all go wrong, I wonder?
After the briefest of laps around the respectably sized autojumble I made a phone call to someone I had yet to meet face to face. Lothar Benke and myself have been exchanging MZ related email correspondence for a couple of years and I was keen to finally meet up with him. Lothar had ridden from Dresden on his MZ ES150 that he'd purchased new as a 16 year old student on 16th October 1965. The bike cost 2310 Marks (GDR) which was about 4 months salary for a skilled worker and Lothar's parents had to sponsor him for the bulk of the cost.
Lothar and his ES150 clocked up 173,000km before he restored it in 2001 and in that time they consumed 12 tyres, 2 seats, 8 batteries, 2 chains and 8 suspension units. Now though, it only comes out on dry days and holidays. When Lothar had to leave, I watched him ride out the gates in period lid and leathers with a new chrome ETZ silencer poking upwards like a chimney from the front of his jacket. It was great to finally meet up with Lothar and satisfying to note that little MZs are still as utilitarian as ever.
Later that afternoon I bumped into one of the Finnish MZ lads that I'd met up with in Ikaalinen a few months' earlier (you might like to put a link to that story in here) and during our chat Andy Minns of Border Bikes introduced himself to me, having overheard us chatting away in English. It turned out that he'd been following my eventful trip to Finland and back on this website. Small world eh?
I'd missed the evening's entertainment on the Friday, but is Slade really Slade without Noddy Holder, I wonder? The Saturday evening promised a Robbie Williams look-alike followed by the erotic show after 11pm, yet by 7pm I was ready for a shower, a decent meal and a comfortable room. All of which I found in nearby Marienberg for €40 per night including breakfast at the Hotel Weißes Roß, you'd have to book well in advance to find a vacancy in Zschopau itself.
Sunday morning saw me back at the autojumble, buying up consumable components such as footrest rubbers and bar grips for my MZ collection, when I made the discovery of the weekend. I stumbled across a dealer who has had the white MZ ES250/2 plastic sidepanel knobs remanufactured from a NOS lump of unobtainium that had turned up. We did a deal for five complete sets and these (and more) are now available again to the discerning ES250 owner in the UK via Fred Rogers of Winsford.
However, the weekend isn't just about the older bikes, far from it. MZ are struggling to re-invent themselves in the way Triumph have successfully managed to do within the last decade or so. All the new MZ models were on display and rides were available. The build quality of the 1000cc range is excellent and the styling, whilst unique, was very easy on my eyes, though I admit to a certain Germanic bias.
Surrounding the Emmenrausch you have the beautiful rolling Saxony hills that became the test tracks for DKW and MZ model development, with Dresden nearby and Prague within a days ride. On the way back to Amsterdam I stopped the night in Eisenach at the hotel adjacent to Schloss Wartburg, where Martin Luther translated the new testament during his supposed exile.
So if you do fancy a long weekend (or longer) in the sun in August, with camping and/or cheap accommodation, with the opportunity to get a good look at prewar German bikes and postwar DDR machines that you'd rarely see outside of books, get down to the MZ Emmenrausch for the 2007 party. You might even test ride a new MZ1000s and fall in love with the best that Saxony has to offer. Stranger things have happened.
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