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  • Seymour Gris: BMW and the terrorists


Seymour Gris: BMW and the terrorists

Forget Ostalgie, we've all just discovered the West again! A new short film describing the "bump" the Baader-Meinhof gang may have given to BMW. The interest in the Baader-Meinhof gang belies a new interest in the West.

Image for Seymour Gris: BMW and the terrorists
Still from “The Baader-Meinhof Complex”

Mainstream brands have been associating themselves with revolt and rebellion for decades. Levi’s made a mint out of the blue jeans’ popularity with student revolutionaries and hippies in the 1960s. But BMW and the Baader Meinhof gang? Sounds a little far-fetched, right?

Andreas Baader’s favourite ride was the BMW 2002 – now a classic of West German design, the kind of machine that gets lovers of vintage autos salivating. His terrorist cell supposedly stole hundreds of them – and this particular model of Beamer was nicknamed ‘Baader Meinhof Wagen’ by the press. Police searching for the RAF were instructed to stop and search only BMWs.

You think the association with terrorists responsible for dozens of deaths and injuries would have negative impact on a car brand, right? Think again. In a new short documentary video, American historian Richard Huffman presents an interesting theory: it was the coolness that Andreas Baader and the RAF imbued upon the BMW brand that transformed the carmaker from a regional company into a supercool global luxury brand. Far-fetched? Watch the video on the left.

It all fits in with the current binge of nostalgia for anything edgy or rebellious coming out of West Germany (and West Berlin) during the 1970s or 1980s – from the new David Bowie video (and an unebbing interest in tours of the former Hansa Studios) to reports we’re hearing of Kreuzberg-dwelling expats reading Die Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo as a text to learn German! After a decade-and-a-half-long fiesta of Ostalgie, everyone seems to agree that the Cold War Bundesrepublik Deutschland was full of cult products ripe for rediscovery – from Big Eden to Haribo, from vintage Playmobil to Krautrock.

Back to Baader-Meinhof and BMW. Did the terrorists unwittingly propel the Bayerische Motorwerken into the capitalist stratosphere it now inhabits? I’m not so sure… I think Bob Marley and the Wailers were equally to blame.