My latest novel, LOVE, GUDRUN ENSSLIN both re-imagines and retells the story of the first generation of The Baader Meinhof Gang. As such, I thought I’d dedicate this blog to a little-known adjunct to the Baader Meinhof story: the legend of the ‘Baader Meinhof Wagen’ and its synonymous identification with the BMW 2002.
The acronym BMW has been said to stand for many different things over the years – including, for a period in West Germany during the late 60s/early 70s, ‘Baader Meinhof Wagen’; a pun on the Red Army Faction’s supposed preference for using hot-wired BMW 2002’s as getaway cars and as their vehicle of choice in other actions. (In truth, the Gang used a variety of vehicles – Mercedes that were donated by ‘schili’ sympathisers and – famously – the Alfa Romeo driven by Astrid Proll during the bold action to free Andreas Baader from captivity at the Dahlem Institut).
However, the primary identification of Baader Meinhof with the BMW 2002 prevailed – and the connection is now permanently established. Indeed, several commentators (and motor historians) assert that Baader Meinhof’s original association with the 2002 model was a key reason why BMW was saved from bankruptcy at the tail end of the 1960s. Indeed, it could be very convincingly argued that without Baader Meinhof there would be no BMW car company today!
Certainly Andreas Baader loved fast cars – and reckless driving. His comrades in the Red Army Faction would frequently admonish Andreas for his heedless driving – the risks he took and the needless police attention it was likely to attract (and, in fact, did attract!) On one infamous occasion Andreas was stopped by the police for his erratic driving – and ended up in custody (albeit with the arresting officer being completely unaware of his true identity). It’s an incident I have recreated in the pages of LOVE, GUDRUN ENSSLIN.
The faster and more expensive the car, the more Andreas enjoyed himself behind the wheel. He’d been driving a Porsche on the day of his capture and, while on the run in Paris, he careered around the streets of the French capital in a donated Mercedes. I’ve used cars and the car industry as a thematic sub-text in my novel – the maverick anarchist character, Rory Carlisle, who unleashes the (fictional) ex-Baader Meinhof operative, Georg Krendler, on today’s bankers has inherited his initial wealth from the German car dealership business of his father. I’ve also given him a Mercedes CLS as one of his main vehicles.
But it is still the connection with the BMW 2002 that is automatically made whenever the phrase ‘Baader Meinhof Wagen’ appears on the internet or in the Press. So synonymous was this car with the revolutionary group that BMW drivers in West Germany at the time of Baader Meinhof used to display a bumper sticker that read “Ich gehöre nicht zur Baader-Meinhof Gruppe” (“I do not belong to the Baader Meinhof Group”) Such was the presumed connection between the Gang and BMWs that, for a time, the West German police would often stop only passing BMWs at their road blocks. Ironically, the Red Army Faction operatives would simply drive through in their stolen Mercedes!
There is one further curio relating to the connection between Baader Meinhof and cars that I uncovered during my research. I’m not sure if it is completely true or entirely an urban myth – or, as with so many things, some strange hybrid of both. However, it is quite possible that the Baader Meinhof Gang actually invented the ‘stinger’ (or, as it is known to Americans, the ‘spike strip’) – albeit as an anti-police weapon rather than a law and order device!
It is certainly a fact that, for a time, the Baader Meinhof Gang had two very talented car mechanics working for them – respraying, souping-up and otherwise modifying stolen vehicles for use in bank raids and the like. It is also true that these same mechanics invented a rudimentary version of a stinger to be thrown out of a car window and directly under the tyres of any pursuing police vehicle. Try as I might, I have been unable to detect any history of a stinger-type device in use prior to Baader Meinhof’s innovation…leading me to the conclusion that the Gang effectively invented this particular apparatus. (However, I remain wholly amenable to any historian of ‘tyre deflation technology’ wishing to post here on my blog in order to set the record straight in either direction!)