CARJACKED (After Banksy)

Coll.eo, 2012

Banksy loves cars. Or perhaps not. In 2004, the British graffiti-artist painted an abandoned automobile in a Somerset quarry near the village of Chanty with zebra-like stripes. The broken vehicle has been subsequently vandalized and destroyed. In 2005, an old Triumph GT6 materialized in a parking lot near Brick Lane, London. Banksy painted it pink and added the image of a ghost driver at the wheel. Today, the elusive British artist is introducing the “Baader Meinhof Wagen”, an appropriated 1972 BMW 2002 Ti.

The title of his work is a pun on the real meaning of the acronym, that is Bayerische Motoren Werke (Bavarian Motor Works). Baader and Meinhof were the names of two leading members of a German terrorist organization who chose BMWs as their preferred means of transportation during the group's frequent shoot outs, killings, and bank robberies.

As Gwynne Dyer writes: “The Red Army Faction (formal name of the Baader-Meinhof Gang) was so well known for its preference for BMW when stealing cars that their favorite model become popularly known in West Germany as the the “Baader-Meinhof Wagen” (2005: 405). Richard Huffman  adds that in the early 1970s, the "BMW’s brand was symbiotically linked to left-wing terrorism in the company’s native West Germany" (2011).

The extremists’ preference for this particular brand is not surprising: BMWs were reliable, fast, easy to break in, and to hot-wire. Above all, they looked “cool”. The ideal getaway car. Unsurprisingly, "Police would regularly set up roadblocks and simply pull over just BMWs, certain in their belief that the terrorist group only preferred the sporty cars from the Bavarian automaker." (Huffman 2011; see also Aust and Bell 2009, 117-118).

Banksy's car features a bumper sticker, the infamous Ich gehöre nicht zur Baader-Meinhof Gruppe sign (“I do not belong to the Baader-Meinhof Group”). This disclaimer - which adorned the windows and rears of many BMWs - reflected the tenor of West Germany in the early 1970s. Ironically, according to Huffman, BMW benefitted “immensely from the new connection to the Baader-Meinhof Gang. Among younger Germans, BMW cars became suddenly hip, trendy, and cool. Perhaps not coincidentally, concurrent with the rising prominence of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, BMW turned the corner financially and went on to become one of the world’s most prominent, respected, and financially successful automakers.” (Huffman).

Banksy's piece is an irreverent take at the brand's perceived hipness and its often overlooked connection to terrorism. The “Baader Meinhof Wagen” carries the same dark humor and vitriolic sarcasm that made his stencils a worldwide sensation.

The bullet holes that adorn the sides and back of this vehicle evoke a dramatic episode that took place on July 12, 1972 in Hamburg, Germany. In a sense, the “Baader Meinhof Wagen”is a counter-monument to the violent confrontation between two RAF members - Petra Schelm and Werner Hoppe - and the police. The couple was driving a BMW 2002, also known as BMW New Class, a line of compact sadans and coupes produced by BMW starting in 1962 with the 1500 and continuing through the last 2002s in 1977. The BMW was slammed to a halt and cornered by the cops, who erected barricades on a bridge. Schelm and Hoppe jumped out the their slick 2002ti, powered by BMW's celebrated four-cylinder M10 engine, fully independent suspension, MacPherson struts in front, two solex phh 40 side-draft carburetors, higher compression pistons resulting in 120 bhp and front disc brakes - and started firing at the officers, Quickly outnumbered, they fled the scene on foot. Hoppe was surrounded by the policemen and surrendered. Schelm ran into an alley and was shot dead by a cop. She was 20.

Luckily, the BMW brand lived on.

Works Cited

Aust, Stefan and Bell, Anthea, Baader-Meinhof: The Inside Story of the R.A.F. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2009.

Dyer, Gwynne. War: The New Edition. Toronto: Vintage Canada. 2005

Huffman, Richard. "BMW/Brand Terror". Baader Meinhof, October 6 2011. URL.

Image credit:  Banksy’s BMW Art Car virtually re-enacts a real shootout between the German police and two members of the Baader Meinhof Group that took place in Hamburg, Germany on July 12 1972. The terrorists, Petra Schelm and Werner Hoppe, were driving a BMW 2002 also know as BMW New Class.

Still image from Uli Edel’s film Der Baader Meinhof Komplex) (The Baader Meinhof Complex), released in 2008.