There once was a girl called Elly…

It had passed the S&G by, but a made-for-TV biopic was made of the life of Elly Beinhorn a couple of years ago by the German channel ZDF – and seems to have received some fairly glowing reviews. Most of the glow appears to have been targeted towards the Luxembourg-born actress Vicky Krieps, who played the feisty aviatrix – which seems fitting enough.

Surely for any actress, filling Elly’s flying boots would be a fairly daunting prospect. On this occasion it seems that the all-female team of producer Ariane Kampe and director Christine Hartmann picked a winner.

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Vicky Krieps as Elly Beinhorn in ZDF’s movie Alleinflug

Elly’s story itself is the stuff of legend: a middle-class girl from Hannover falls in love with the idea of flying and defies her family’s wishes to make record-breaking solo flights to Africa, around Mount Everest and all the way to Australia. The media made her a newsreel star and celebrated photojournalist – although when she was at her zenith that media was the state-controlled propaganda machine operated by Josef Göbbels.

In 1935 Elly meets the love of her life: the Grand Prix racing driver, Bernd Rosemeyer. There is a will-they won’t-they romance while she wrestles with fears of losing her hard-won independence, but then the couple are joyously united to become the ‘Posh and Becks’ of the Third Reich.

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Bernd and Elly in their recreated courtship

The couple welcome their first child, Bernd Jr., in late 1937 but then Rosemeyer is killed on a blustery morning in January 1938 during a foolhardy record breaking run on the Frankfurt-Darmstadt autobahn. Our girl Elly is bereft but still she rises, with her little boy and her love of the skies. Fine stuff, indeed.

It’s all very beautiful and glamorous and there is much to savour, from Elly’s time stranded with the Tuareg in the Sahara to the sight of her Klemm and Messerschmitt aircraft floating artfully through the sky.

Interestingly, the good folk at Audi Tradition were obviously brought in to support the film with their Auto Unions and pre-war paraphernalia.  This is interesting because they usually fight shy of placing their silver arrows anywhere near a period setting, for fear of the dreaded swastika appearing in shot with what is the centrepiece of Audi’s worldwide heritage PR programme.

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Audi Tradition weighed in with a V16 (not sure about the modern pit trolley, though!)

Perhaps it is Audi’s presence that puts the government of the day so far out of the spotlight in the film, when in real time the swastika was plastered all over the exploits of both Bernd and Elly – whether they liked it or not. In Elly’s own accounts they did not like it one iota… although subsequent research by German historians certainly calls Bernd’s reluctance into question.

Nikolaus von Festenberg, reviewing the film in der Tagesspiel, felt that this was the one important element missing from the film, saying: “The apolitical celebrity couple served, whether they knew it or not, the Nazi regime. Today’s filmmakers need to make clear the traces of brown in the shadows… it is not silenced when the hero remains silent.”

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It was pretty hard to avoid the swastika at a German team in the Thirties

All things being equal, however, it’s a well-deserved film of a woman well worth naming one’s daughter after, if an adventurer she be. The real Elly Beinhorn lived to 100 years of age, feisty to the last and an inspiration to many.

Should the chance arise, do treat yourself to an evening with Alleinflug. The DVD is available on Amazon but it hasn’t yet made it on an overseas release so there are no subtitles. No doubt some enterprising soul will put it out on the internet before long, though. In the meanwhile here’s a rather nice picture of Bernd Rosemeyer Jr. with the actors who played his parents… a nice touch, I thought.

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Bernd Rosemeyer Jr. with the leading man and leading lady

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Fitting AVUS into the living room

Flat-out in Berlin – and in miniature

We love a bit of slot car racing here at the S&G – be it Scalextric, Carrerabahn or anything wild and wacky. Not much can compare with this layout in the latter stakes – a recreation of Berlin’s mighty AVUS circuit in its 1930s prime.

At the time of opening, AVUS was 19½ km (12 miles) long – each straight being approximately half that length. Before the 1937 AVUS-Rennen the North Turn was rebuilt to become a towering banked curve made of bricks and tilted at 43 degrees in order to maximise the speed of the cars. As the AVUS race did not count towards the championship, the use of streamlined cars, similar to the cars used for high speed record attempts, was permitted.

Given their vast weight and speed, all of the streamliners had holes cut into their bodywork to allow drivers to check on the condition of their Continental tyres. Blowouts were one risk to life and limb but so too were the aerodynamic forces at play – in practice Hermann Lang’s streamliner was fitted with covers over the wheels and, while doing roughly 390 km/h on the straight, enough air became trapped under the to lift the front wheels lifted from the ground.

While Mercedes struggled to configure its cars appropriately, the Auto Union team had a much less dramatic time and Bernd Rosemeyer set a time of 4m 4.2s (averaging 284.31km/h or 176.7mph). Such feats and glorious spring weather prompted a crowd estimated at 400,000 to witness the races – staged in two heats and a final – from which the overall winner would pocket 12000 Reichmarks. The winners of the heats would get 2000 RM, second place 1000 RM.

That prize ultimately fell to Lang for Mercedes in an event that has rightly been set into legend – and now it has been recreated – in spirit at least – for smaller scale racing.

The daunting North Turn at AVUS in 1937

There’s clearly still some work to do on the scenery, but even at this early stage it’s clear that a masterpiece is taking shape.

Sites we like #3: Lief Snellman’s Golden Era of Grand Prix Racing

The chronicle of great races by Lief

The chronicle of great races by Lief

Dear old Lief has been chronicling the pre-war Grands Prix with skill and detail for more than a dozen years. If ever you need a reference for the ‘Silver Arrows’ in particular, then look no further.

The Golden Era of Grand Prix Racing

Porsche’s Greatest Strength (through joy!)

It is the summer of 1937 and, in the run-up to the annual Eifelrennen on the twisting, rolling Nürburgring circuit, the Auto Union grand prix team receives a welcome visit from the man to whom they owe their very existence: Dr. Ferdinand Porsche.

Of late Porsche has been only a sporadic visitor to the team, because he is understandably preoccupied by his latest venture as managing director of the “Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Deutschen Volkswagens mbH” or “Gezuvor” for short (translated as the “Company for Preparation of the German People’s Car Ltd”)

The Volkswagen – rebranded by the Nazi government investors as the KdF-Wagen as part of its ‘Strength through Joy’ economic reforms – shares much in common with the mighty Auto Union grand prix cars – not least its suspension design and rear-engined layout.

So who better to hand the latest prototype to than the racing team’s lead driver, Bernd Rosemeyer? Bernd, who has flown himself to the Nürburgring in a Bücker Jungmann trainer aircraft that he landed on the pit straight, sets out for a jaunt in Porsche’s latest marvel while Dr. Porsche looks on – what impressions the future ‘Beetle’ made upon the racing ace we can only guess!

Dr. Porsche sees his latest masterpiece head out into the unknown...

Dr. Porsche sends Rosemeyer out into the unknown…

Bernd and Elly, 1936

They were the most glamorous and celebrated couple in Nazi Germany… each of them winning honours in the technological marvels that were being produced throughout the pre-war days of the Reich.

In this photo we see them just weeks into their marriage. Elly Beinhorn, the celebrated aviatrix, embraces her victorious husband Bernd Rosemeyer after he has won the 1936 German Grand Prix.

She is already a record breaker and hero. He is about to claim the European Championship for Auto Union at only his second attempt against the might of Mercedes-Benz and the experience of Alfa Romeo and Maserati.

Together they are the human face of those years of astounding German achievement…

Auto Union star Bernd Rosemeyer with his wife, aircraft pilot Elly Beinhorn