Bernd Rosemeyer

Bernd Rosemeyer was born October 14, 1909 in Lingen, Lower Saxony, Germany.  Like many other drivers of the period, he began riding motorcycles.  He caught to the attention of the DKW factory who had recently joined a group of other manufactures to form the Auto Union group.  A revolutionary new Grand Prix car was being built at the Horch factory, at Zwickau, under the direction of Dr. Ferdinand Porsche.  The car featured a 6 cylinder engine.

Auto Union was hard to drive, and only Rosemeyer and Italian Legend Tazio Nuvolari truly mastered these 500 bhp beasts. His first race was in the dangerous Avus circuit, near Berlin.  He qualified third fastest but a broken engine prevented him from finishing the race.

In only his second ever Grand Prix, at the daunting Nurburgring, Rosemeyer took the lead from Rudolf Caracciola and was almost in sight of the finish line when he missed a gear and was passed.  However in subsequent years he made up for this mistake by winning three consecutive races at the Nurburgring, one famously in thick fog.

His next major race showed him involved in a duel with the Legend at Pescara Grand Prix in Italy.  He attempted to pass Nuvolari on the second lap but skidded off-course and burst both rear tires.  He limped back to the pits and returned to the race to continue the attack.  On the eighth lap his brakes failed before entering a corner and the car slid of the road, jumped a ditch and passed between a telegraph pole and the parapet of a bridge, before re-emergin onto the circuit and back into the race.  Rosemeyer eventually finished second behind his teammate Achille Varzi on this most eventful afternoon.

After the race, Dr. Porsche went to the scene of Rosemeye’r drive through the woods and being the engineer measured the gap between the pole and the bridge.  He found it to be only 2.1/2 cc or 1 inch wider than the Auto Union at its widest point.  Silently the mercurial Porsche shook hands with the young driver and patted his shoulder.

In 1935 he won his first Grand Prix at the Brno Masryk circuit in Czechoslovaquia.  Rosemeyer finished six minutes ahead of Nuvolari.  While on the podium he was introduced to the famous aviatrix Elly Beinhorn.  His marriage to the young flying ace added even more celebrity hype and also made him learn to fly a plane.

Several sensational Grand Prix motor racing victories in 36 and 37 (including the Vanderbilt Cup in Long Island, New York, USA) made him popular not only in Germany, but outside as well.  He won the European driving championship in 1936.

In 1938 at the end of the season, Mercedes, feeling that their reputation was taking a beating by the upstart Auto Union team and its brash driver decide to undertake an attempt to regain the land speed record from Auto Union.  The attempt would take place on the Frankfurt Darmstad Heidelberg Autobahn.

They set the date of their attempt for the end of January prior to the Berlin Automobile Show.  On January 27, 1938 Alfred Neubauer checked with the weather bureau at the Frankfurt Airport and learned that the conditions would be ideal the next morning January 28, 1938, but that the wind would pick-up after 9:am.  At 8:am Caracciola was off and the record at 260 mph belonged to the ‘Three Pointed Star’.  Rosemeyer was one of the first to congratulate Caracciola and said: “My turn now”.

Just before noon Rosemeyer entered the cockpit of his Auto Union Streamliner despite report that the wind was picking up and rocketed down the Autobahn.

After two preliminary runs he was traveling at over 270 mph on his third and final attempt at 11:47am when the car was probably caught by a gust of wind or an unforeseen aerodynamic effect and skidded to the left hand then to the right and off the road.  Rosemeyer was thrown out of the car that was somersaulting through the air, and died at the roadside Neubauer, Caracciola and von Brauchitsch, his Mercedes rivals, sat silently for a long time, “unmoving like statues” in Caracciola’s words.

Rosemeyer considered 13 to be his lucky number.  He was married on July 13, 1936.  13 days later he won the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.  His last Nurburgring victory came on the 13 June 1937.  His last race victory came at his 13 start of the 1937 at Donington Park.

Bernd Rosemeyer was buried with full military honors and today, there is a monument south of the Bundesautobahn 5 exit of Langen/Morfelden, roughly where his car left the road.  On the south-bound exit of a rest area on the western laned, name Bernd-Rosemeyer-Parkplatz, a sign indicates that the Bernd-Rosemeyer-Denkmai is 70 meter away.  It used to be hidden in bushes which are removed now, and is visited frequently.

There is also a bronze memorial situated next to the entrance to the Donington Park Museum in Leicestershire.  Bernd Rosemeyer is buried in the Waldfriedhof Dahlem on Hutten Weg in Berlin.




Posted in MEMOIRS.

Emilio Lezcano

Journalist - Editor - Photographer
Professional Race Car Driver

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