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Rolfs Reizen: The GDR

ER Classics Desktop 2022

A long time ago, in 1971, the four of us drove on a moped to the GDR, Hungary and Yugoslavia. The goal was the Italian coast, to watch girls there. That didn't work out, because we were running out of money and one of us got homesick. On our journey, past the pretty scary Iron Curtain, we saw a lot of motorcycles, which we found very interesting. It was very funny to first see a helmet appear in the rolling landscape and then an MZ, a Pannonia and many Jawas.

Text and photos: Rolf Wassens


On our bike ride along the Elbe last summer, I saw few motorcyclists. That does not mean that our trip on the Harley Trapsons suddenly became a lot more fun, when I saw a very nice motorcycle shop in Mühlberg (Lutherstadt Wittenberg area). There in Zweiradhaus Beger I couldn't believe my eyes! Between mopeds and bicycles are the most beautiful motorcycles from the GDR era. An AWO-Simson 425 for example. Later I saw another one driving around in Bad Schandau near the Czech border with a container next to it.

AWO, Soviet Aktiengesellschaft Awtowelo.

The Russians had merged a number of expropriated German engine factories into this group. The 425 (4-stroke 250 cc) is very similar to the BMW R 25, which came on the market in the same year (1950). However, almost no part is the same or interchangeable, and the engine itself also looks very different. In 1955 a slightly stronger model appeared, the AWO 425 Sport. It didn't get more than 15 hp. In 1957 the factory changed its name to VEB (Volks Eigenes Betrieb) Simson, Suhl. That was actually the old name, because the Simson factory already existed before the war. Thus, the AWO 425 was also called Simson 425. Some 350 cc single-cylinder engines have even been made.

It is being restored

Zweiradhaus Beger is restoring them, just like the Czech Jawas 250 and 350 and even the illustrious 500 OHC, the one with that beautiful block with the king's shaft. Beger said: “There is another one at one of my customers. However, parts become a problem. You have to keep everything that is still usable and make the rest yourself. ” He actually had to help a customer who had a flat tire with her bike, but my interest in his motorcycles made her wait quite a long time. Especially when I mentioned that I also had an MZ myself.
When I said something about Russians who didn't want Samson to make four-stroke motorcycles any longer, Beger said: “Yes, and then you have to see what they made themselves. Those Urals and Dneprs were always broken, Russian Rommel. DDR engines like EMW, Simson and MZ were much better. But the Russians determined what was produced. For example, in 1966 the import of Jawa motorcycles above 50 cc was suddenly stopped / “

EMW, the red and white BMW

Beger also has an EMW. Built at Fahrzeugwerke Eisenach in Thüringen, a company that already existed in 1886 and where, among other things, the 'Wartburg' was built. BMW bought the factory in 1928. A six-cylinder Austin Seven was also built under license, and during the war the now unaffordable R 75 for the Wehrmacht. For safety reasons, BMW took production of the R 35 to Thuringia. That didn't really help, because Eisenach was also flattened. The Americans conquered this part of Germany, but it was agreed that Russia would occupy it. Usually the Russians demolished the factories they found and took as much home as possible, but they left the factory in Eisenach alone and they were even soon allowed to build motorcycles again: the BMW R 35.

BMW's veto

It is quite logical that BMW in Munich did not accept that. The name change in EMW prevented a lot of nagging about patents. The blue in the blue and white propeller turned communist red. The EMWs performed well, but production was discontinued in 1956 by order of the Russians, in favor of the Wartburg. In the meantime, the Russians themselves were also busy rebuilding BMW. The qualitatively better EMWs were probably seen as difficult competitors. After all, they had also built the R 75. You always see a curious volatility around the Russian decisions when it comes to motorcycle manufacturers in the GDR.

HMW 98cc The 'Metall- und Fahrradwerk Hainsberg' sold the first 'engine, resembling a Mofa' from 1950-1953. They already produced the 'National' brand before the war. Fichtel & Sachs, also included in the Awtowelo group, had great difficulty in supplying the 98cc engines.

The Dutch are not welcome

By the way, Beger does not want to be called by Dutch people who want parts; he needs them himself. "You have to repair and copy parts yourself." Moreover, we Dutch people Europe-wide have a reputation that we do not want to pay normal prices.

In Dresden, the Verkehrsmuseum is located on the Neumarkt near the Frauenkirche. Very interesting, just the city center itself. During the war, the citizens of Dresden believed that there was some kind of gentlemen's agreement between the Allies and the German leadership, which would save the cultural city of Dresden. That turned out differently - not surprising, because there was also industry - the city has been flattened. Billions were spent before and after the Wende to give the city roughly the appearance of the past. In Magdeburg - also flattened - they opted for modern architecture in addition to a few restored monuments; in Dresden you imagine yourself in the 18th century. The buildings in the Altstadt have been built in 18th century style with modern materials.
The 'Verkehrsmuseum' is really worth a visit, it has some unique old vehicles, with a lot of clear explanations about technology and history.

Sources: Beger Mühlberg, Verkehrsmuseum Dresden, Type Compass DDR-Motorräder

6 Comments

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  1. Olav, you are undoubtedly a wandering encyclopedia on the motor vehicle field, but that ever know-it-all-nagging language of yours is slowly starting to bother me.

  2. Nice piece with interesting reactions. With all the facts together you get a useful piece. And shooting at it is intended as constructive criticism. Two points on my part: the mentioned brand HMW does not come from the Eastern Bloc but from Austria, Halleiner Motorrad Werke. Were also used for some Dutch mopeds. And VEB is Volks EigeneR Betrieb, but that will just be typos.

  3. Some things have to be put right here.

    Is a Dnepr Russian junk? It is, or rather was, a motorcycle from Ukraine. So not Russian. The Ural, on the other hand, is Russian, still exists and is still selling well.

    Did the Russians, probably the USSR, no longer want to import four-strokes above 1966cc after 60? How is it then that Jawa from Czechosolovakia contractually supplied 100.000 two-stroke two cylinders in exchange for oil for decades?

    Did the Russians demolish all the factories except what they left? Yes, that was agreed at the Yalta Conference. The USSR itself was partly demolished by the Germans, remember? The factories that went to the USSR were intended as reparations for what Germany had done in the East. It was completely legal and also completely legitimate.

    • "The Russians" was generally used for the entire Soviet Republic. And with a message of about 500 words you have to condense things a bit. You and I have immersed ourselves in this most interesting matter. And the last Dneprs were even less than junk. I saw a new one at a dealer (3 km on the counter, that was the distance from the end of the conveyor belt to the site where the machines were stored, they were towed there in rows by a tractor) Dnep; r of which the frame parts were only attached before being hosed. I myself have been driving 'Russian' without any problems for about a quarter of a century. And whether Ural will make it?

  4. The AWO / Simson 425 was available in a Touren version with 12 hp, and from 1956 also in a Sport version with 14 (later 15,5) hp.
    The Simson 435 (350cc) is only sold as a competition (GS) or police short engine in small numbers.
    The four-stroke was considered too expensive for Janusz-met-Pet, so DKW / IFA / MZ in Zsophau got the exclusive right ... they were not happy with that in Suhl, because the 425 sold well.

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