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Repairs with a hairpin and a garter

Today, we are used to the display on our car's dashboard which shows us exactly the technical condition of our vehicle and motor. When the next service is due, low oil level, low windshield wash water level, and so on – everything is shown in most cases even before things become critical.

Adjust a richer mix when starting the cold motor - what does that mean? Adjust the ignition point – that's known from private aviation, at maximum. Back then, things were much more difficult, and moreover, most of it was absolutely new.

The early motorist always had to have a good deal of technical know-how, because something always needed a repair. Oily hands were the rule rather than the exception.

So Bertha Benz and her sons drove by ear. If a chain had extended and now quite audibly missed individual teeth of the gears, they had to go to the blacksmith's in Bruchsal who fixed the chain.

However, two bad troubles happened in the middle of the road, so that "on-board" tools had to be used for the repair. These two pretty dramatic situations were described later as follows, rather coolly, by Bertha Benz, "The first time, the fuel line was clogged – my hairpin turned out to be helpful there. The second time the ignition was broken. I used my garter to fix it."

So all those who occasionally voice their doubts as to female driving abilities (typical macho comment: Woman Driver!) should take note of the fact that not only was the world's first long automobile long-distance trip undertaken by a woman, but that Bertha Benz also had excellent technical skills.

When trying to find the right historical category for Bertha Benz' achievement in the year 1888, one should remember that Finland was the first country in Europe to introduce female suffrage in 1906, Germany in the year 1918, whereas a Swiss semi-canton marked the bottom of the class in 1990.

The state of Baden was very progressive already at that time, and in the year 1900 it was the first German state to admit women to university, 12 years after Bertha Benz' historic ride.

However, Bertha Benz not only paved the way for a new image of women, she also demonstrated a capacity already in 1888 which has not become commonplace even today. Team spirit! In an interview she gave later she frankly admitted that her sons had also driven parts of the route. The driving service while their three-days' stay in Pforzheim, which many interested citizens were keen on using, even was completely organized by Eugen, her 15-year-old son.

On her return trip, she had to get her automobile fixed again because of all the uphill and downhill routes between Pforzheim and Bauschlott (Neulingen). Later, she herself wrote, "I will never forget the bit from Pforzheim to Bauschlott in my lifetime. For in Bauschlott, the shoemaker had to fit new leather to the brake blocks, after we had to push the vehicle several times before. When we left Bauschlott, things went relatively smooth again until we reached Bretten."

The shoemaker's name was Karl Bitsch, and he lived in what is the building located on Pforzheimer Strasse 18 today; he nailed the leather on the brake blocks for the courageous lady in front of the "Adler" guesthouse.

When looking back today, the 120 years from 1888 until 2008 seem to be an eternity. We must not forget, however, that Bertha Benz only died in the year 1944, i.e. 64 years ago. For this reason, quite a number of people still live in Ladenburg today who knew her personally.

We can imagine that there may be more reports from that time, telling stories about the trip made by Bertha Benz, which are passed on from one generation to the next in the families along the route. If you, dear reader, should be aware of such stories, please forward them to us so that we can publish them on this site - you would make us very happy indeed!


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Signposts have been set up
Official Opening will be
embedded in the closing
ceremonies of
"Automobilsommer 2011"
Bertha Benz Challenge
(Open only for vehicles with
alternative drive systems)

more …

In Memoriam

Our friend Ms. Christiane Lubisch, who translated this website from German into English for free, passed away in December 2010.
We miss you, Christiane!