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Deutsches Technikmuseum - One hundred years of Zündapp Industrial photos by Albert Renger-Patzsch

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Photo: In the foreground we see around 20 cylinders with their typical cooling fins at the start of the conveyor belt. Above the belt is a sign emblazoned with 'Cylinders', spelt with a 'C'. Lots of machines and drive units are shown in the background.

Engine cylinders laid out at the conveyor belt in-feed. The belt takes the parts for processing at the individual assembly points.

Photo: A long queue of motorbikes is perched on the conveyor belt, which traverses the image from left to right. The back wheels are missing; the mounting bolts are arranged in shallow wooden crates without lids.

The workers on the conveyor belt assemble the motorcycles by hand. Nuts and bolts are laid out here in wooden crates to mount the back wheels.

Photo: The engines are arranged in a long row, each of them connected to vertical pipes. They flow into a horizontal manifold that channels the fumes to the outside.

Finished engines are tested to ensure that they run smoothly; exhaust fumes are extracted through the vertical pipes.

Photo: Two workers stand in front of wooden booths that are mounted on tables. They are spraying paint on to motorbike fenders. Four paint booths, arranged in a row, are shown in the image.

The paintshop uses compressors and spray guns and is therefore absolutely state-of-the-art for its time. There are extraction systems to reduce exposure, but the workers do not wear respirators.

Photo: Arranged in a staggered row, four slanted drawing boards stand in an otherwise empty room. Light falls in through the window on the left, illuminating them. This is where the engineers worked standing up.

In-house development: the blueprints for production are created at these drawing boards.

One hundred years of Zündapp

Industrial photos by Albert Renger-Patzsch

Gallery of the Photo Technology permanent exhibition, Beamtenhaus 2nd floor

19 April to 16 July 2017

Photo: Extended rows of machinery fill the room. Above them the drive mechanism runs diagonally through the image, beneath the factory ceiling. A large wheel in the foreground moves a conveyor belt, from which individual shallow crates are suspended.

One of the three assembly lines: large, central motors drive overhead pulleys attached to conveyor belts that transport crates with smaller parts to their points of assembly.

The exact date can be confirmed: The renowned photographer Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966) visited the one-year-old Nuremberg plant of the motorcycle manufacturer Zündapp on 7 February 1930.

He documented the entire company in 62 images: the buildings, break rooms and offices - but above all the factory halls and their machinery.
Twenty-three of these original photographs will now be exhibited to mark the anniversary of the company's founding in 1917.

The images reveal all the aspects that made Renger-Patzsch a main proponent of New Objectivity in photography: motorcycles arranged in exact rows reveal ornamental qualities, while handwheels on machines appear like abstract painting, and the shed roofs enclosing the factories become a play with lines.

Moreover, the photographs are socio-historical testimonies to the harsh working conditions: the worker at the acid bath does not wear goggles, open transmission belts criss-cross the factory, and the painter is not equipped with a respirator.
Renger-Patzsch also documents economic and industrial history: The conveyor belt - to which Zündapp owes much of its success - is a dominant feature in all production processes.

Profitability through rationalisation

The firm Zünder-Apparatebau GmbH was founded 1917 in Nuremberg. As the name suggests (Zünder = detonator), its main purpose was to produce odnance. The company set out to find a new purpose after the end of the First World War, which it discovered in the construction of 'motorcycles for everyone'. Highly innovative at the time, the conveyor belt manufacturing kept the price of the first series model, the Z22, relatively low at just 1,425 Reichsmark - a small car cost twenty times as much.

It marked the beginning of a success story: by the end of the 1930s, Zündapp had become one of Europe's five largest motorcycle factories. Releasing models like the KS 601 'Green Elephant' or the 'Bella', the company returned to its previous successes after the end of the Second World War, helping to mobilise the population and contributing to the 'Economic Miracle'. But the company lost ground to its Japanese competitors in the early 1980s. The last family-owned German motorcycle manufacturer was forced into bankruptcy in August 1984.

Photo: A worker wearing a peaked cap sits astride a motorcycle on the conveyor belt. To the right of him is a roughly one-metre clock face showing the positions zero, one quarter, one half and three quarters.

The mounted tool pouches indicate that the motorbike is ready for delivery - only a test run remains to be completed. The large clock is used to coordinate the cycle times on the conveyor belt.

The Zündapp Legacy in the German Museum of Technology

Headquarted in Munich from the 1960s onward, Zündapp was sold to a Chinese company in 1984, which dismantled the entire factory and transported it to its home in Tianjin. Opened 1983, the museum managed to acquire the entire Zündapp factory archive and the extensive company museum.

This includes a large number of vehicles, among them the result of a short-lived attempt by the company to break into the auto market: the mini-car 'Janus', in which the driver and the only passenger take their seats back-to-back. This curio is now on show in the 'Man on the Move' exhibition.


Header photo:
Around a dozen fully assembled motorcycles stand in rank and file at the end of the factory hall, all of their handlebars turned to the right. This creates an artistically structured throng of identical motorcycle parts in a parallel arrangement.

© For all photos (black and white): Albert Renger-Patzsch/ Ann and Jürgen Wilde Archive/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017