The original wall of death is a breathtaking motorcycle show full of tradition and style. At the BMW Motorrad Days 2017 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, for the first time, four R 25s were presented with a specially rehearsed act for the three-day event. Donald "Captain Donald" Ganslmeier, Clemens "San Clemens" Schöne, Jan "Flying Dutchman" Laurens and Peter "The Viking" Petersen took their rounds on their old single-cylinder bikes. In addition, Jan and Donald showed the entire range of daring motorcycle manoeuvres on the oldest steep face in the world.
It’s roaring loudly in the Motodrom. The four single-cylinder engines from the 1950’s still warm up. The scent of petrol is in the air while the audience at the edge of the wooden pot at a height of about 6 meters is looking down at the acrobats. What the four pilots are now going to do is a great spectacle, a world premiere. For the first time Donald, Jan, Clemens and Peter want to ride four motorcycles simultaneously through the Motodrom. The performers start their brilliantly restored R 25 under a deafening din, they first drive behind each other and then find their tempo. Then they spread top down along the entire width of the six-meter-high pot, until they ride close together, almost arm in arm over the "wall of death.“ In the drivers’ faces there is no sign of tension, almost playful the four daredevils succeed in the breathtaking premiere. The visitors are astonished and amazed at the same time and show their enthusiasm with great applause.
Relying on pure muscle power
Spectators are always fascinated by the "Motorellos" and their oldest travelling wall of death in the world all over again. Donald Ganslmeier, also known as ‚Don Strauss‘, had undertaken the wall just a few years previously from his former boss Hugo Dabbert and manages it. The drum – assembled from 18 wall elements, almost 10 metres in diameter and six metres high – was one of the last modules of his 'Wall of Death', which can still be found in its original condition from 1928 and now lies at rest in a warehouse.
Riding the wall of death is hard work. It takes a good two days until the bottom is dimensioned absolutely straight, wall elements are erected and lashed with steel wire ropes, the spectator's podium and the parade are laid and the tent roof is suspended from the 12 metre high central mast – almost 25 tonnes, which have to be unloaded from the two semi trailers and a 7.5 tonner and then loaded back on again after the spectacle. Only with muscle power, naturally.
A good degree of courage
"When the wall of death riders entered the village, it used to be a case of not letting your daughters go to the fair" – or at least that's what Donald Ganslmeier was always told. After his military service, he got on his motorcycle, rode to England and learned the art of wall-of-death acrobatics from Ken Fox. He has been committed to the showman's life ever since.
There's definitely a degree of courage involved, first to balance on the slanting launch pad for a few laps, to shift up and then eventually to switch at the right speed and the required momentum onto the vertical surface. At least 45 km/h must be reached so that the contact pressure through the centrifugal forces is high enough to press the motorcycle along with its rider with more than 3G to the wall.
One lap should last around three seconds; beginners can use this as a rough guide so they don't need the speedometer anyway. The greatest difficulties are getting a handle on the feelings of dizziness which come about at the beginning, or not sliding off the wall due to insufficient speed. "It is an awesome feeling", says Clemens, "when after many practice runs you finally achieve safety and are able to do your laps on the bumpy track".
A fleet of new bikes
a frame, two 19 inch wheels, original tank, spring-loaded seat and 12 HP engine with Bing carburettor. The exhaust is merely a chrome-plated pipe; protective plates or even headlights would just be unnecessary weight. All parts received a new coat of paint and the tank even got back its original white handlining. "12 HP is completely sufficient, but we had to tighten the suspension so it didn't float around so much", says Clemens, a carpenter by trade and the youngest rider of the 'Motorellos'. He motions towards the rear spring struts of his BMW as he explains this to us. Work for the coming winter.
Pressed shirts and riding trousers
No helmet and no insurance
Even if the show looks so playfully easy – there is always risk involved. And that risk is taken up to forty times a day at events such as BMW Motorrad Days in Garmisch-Partenkirchen or the Munich Oktoberfest, where the visitor turnout is so high that a show must be performed every half an hour until late into the night. No helmet and no double floor. This requires constant concentration and really takes it out of you.
When Ganslmeier tells his audience that no insurer is prepared to insure his riders against accidents, he isn't joking. The risk group may be relatively small, with fifty to sixty riders in the world, nevertheless there is a risk of an accident happening on every lap. That's why the daredevil riders are grateful at the end of a show for every donation to the accident insurance fund they set up themselves.