Back Issue: Striking Oil in Hamburg
I made one of the greatest discoveries of my life while in Hamburg, Germany recently. I am regularly in the city for work—and lived there from 2007 to 2010—but had somehow never found out about this place.
It came up in conversation with a friend, who mentioned that he might have seen a communal motorcycle workshop in the western suburb of Bahrenfeld. And, come to think of it, there was a classic French car workshop too, and possibly even a classic sports car workshop. I didn’t need much more encouragement, and set out to find these mystery workshops that had eluded me, for as long as I had been coming to Hamburg.
Back Issue is a series where we dig into our archives, and pull out stories that we think still hold water—despite their age. This story first appeared online two years ago, so any facts printed here may have changed since.
I took a ten minute train ride from the central train station, and got off in eager anticipation. After five minutes of walking I came to what looked like an old industrial factory, set a few hundred metres back from the road. The first warehouse I saw confirmed that I was on the right track. The yard outside was littered with motorcycles of all types: scramblers, classics, modern bikes, superbikes, half-completed projects, and bikes that had been stripped for spares.
I stuck my head in the workshop doors and my body followed. One mechanic was working on a Yamaha XT500 and didn’t even notice me snooping around. Another character emerged from a separate workshop area and looked at me sceptically—holding my skateboard in my hand with a stupid petrol-head grin on my mug.
I explained that I own a communal motorcycle workshop back home in Cape Town and that I was interested in what they were up to here. That put a smile on his face and he enthusiastically showed me around.
Motorrad Selbsthilfe Altona is a DIY motorcycle workshop where you can service, customise or repair your bike yourself. They have all the tools you need and a team of five mechanics who use the workshop as their place of work, and can offer advice or lend a hand when tackling more complicated jobs. Winter is build time in the Northern Hemisphere, as the weather up north is not conducive to riding. So, since it was summer, the workshop was pretty quiet. I thanked the mechanic and moved on.
The next workshop I found was around the back of a huge face brick factory—which I later learnt had manufactured pistons in years gone by. How appropriate. I came around a corner and was greeted by a graveyard of classic Frenchies—mostly old Citroen DS’s and their gorgeous station wagon variants.
As I was snapping shots of the graveyard a Citroen H van emerged from a back alleyway. It was the first time I had seen one of these trucks in the flesh, and I revelled in its details and textures.
Light was fading and I had to head to the airport to catch my flight back to South Africa, so I had to move on. Luckily I had saved the best for last—as I came around the last corner in the yard my eyes fell upon an Aston Martin DB6 Superleggera, a Ferrari 330 GT, a Maserati Ghibli and a Jaguar Mk1. With a line-up like this outside, Steinke Sportwagen Service had to be good!
For the love of machines, I was even more of a petrol-head walking out of this dream workshop than I was walking in.
I walked in cautiously, camera behind my back, ready to charm any hardy German mechanics into letting me explore the workshop. Two young apprentices were busy working on an old Alfa Romeo and eyed me out. I widened my eyes in moto-amazement and put on a sheepish smile that usually gets ze Germans to drop their defences. I managed to look harmless enough, and was told that as long as I edited out the license plates if I were to publish the images, I could go wild.
So I went wild—Steinke Sportwagen Service is a petrol-head’s wet dream. Jaguar E-Types, Aston Martins, Alfa Romeos, a Ferrari Dino; I couldn’t wrap my head around the number of immaculate classics in the workshop.
I even found a 1980 Alfa Romeo V12 Formula One car which was stripped and having its gear ratios changed after a classics race. This car was made before modern composite materials, using the most beautiful metals with amazing craftsmanship. There was titanium and unobtanium everywhere, a copper core radiator and all the welds and brazing ground down to save every gram of excess weight. Ah, the glory days of F1.
I moved over to the machining workshop, passing a race-prepped Jaguar E-type Coupé along the way. In true German style the workshop was über-neat and orderly with a tool for every job, right down to a Maserati milling machine! Never before had I seen such a collection of beautiful old machinery—in perfect working order and being used for its intended purpose.
I was now officially going to be late for my flight. I could have spent hours more in the workshop but it would have to wait until next time. The two apprentices were smiling at my captivation, and as I was leaving I passed an E-type next to a DB5—two of the most iconic and beautiful cars ever created.