Fascinating F1 Fact: 3

The town of Kerpen is about 20 miles to the west of Cologne, in the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen in Germany. It was originally called Kerpina and can trace its history back to 871. Europe being a complicated place it has been ruled over by numerous dukes and archbishops and in 1794 it became French, following the Battle of Fleurus. It was returned to Prussia in 1815 after the defeat of Napoleon and was later assimilated into Germany.

In 1975 Kerpen grew significantly when a number of municipalities agreed to merge to create a bigger unit. The town has had a number of interesting residents in its history, notably composers Ludwig van Beethoven and (the very different) Karlheinz Stockhausen. There was also Christman Genipperteinga, who is believed to have murdered no fewer than 964 people between 1568 and 1581 (which is an impressive kill rate!). It was also the birthplace of a man called Pedro Schumacher, a Catholic bishop who played an important role in the revolution in Ecuador.

As catholic priests are not supposed to leave children behind, one assumes that he was no direct relation to construction worker Rolf Schumacher, father of two youngsters who would make great names for themselves in the world of Formula 1, and become Kerpen’s most famous modern residents.

It didn’t happen by chance. In order to be successful youngsters need to spend a lot of time learning and developing their talents. The Schumacher brothers did this famously at a local kart track, which was located in the Kerpen district of Horrem. This village features the moated castle of Hemmersbach, which dates back to the Fifteenth Century. It was inherited in 1751 by Franz Adolph Berghe of Trips, who could trace his family’s noble history back more than 600 years. In 1928 Wolfgang Berghe Von Trips was born, the next generation of the dynasty. He was rather a sickly child, who suffered from diabetes and was not deemed suitable for military service at the very end of World War II. When American forces were quartered in the castle, he learned to speak English, but was well into his twenties before he began racing in 1953 at the wheel of a VW Beetle, using the pseudonym Axel Linther. He graduated to Porsches and in 1954 was German racing champion and was hired by the Mercedes Benz sports car team for 1955. It seemed that Mercedes would take him to Formula 1, but that summer the Le Mans disaster led the company to quit all motorsport. Von Trips was picked up by Ferrari in 1956 and five years later became the first German since Hermann Lang in 1939 to win a Grand Prix. Sadly he was killed while battling for the 1961 World Championship at Monza.

An organization called “Rennsportfreunde Graf Berghe von Trips” decided to build a kart track in his honour, on a piece of land in Horrem that belonged to the Von Trips family. The track was opened in 1965 and in the late 1960s the membership grew significantly. By 1971 the circuit was able to host the first CIK Juniors’ Cup. The problem was that there was no way to expand the facility because it sat next to a railway line and so the club began to look for a new venue. It was not until 1979 that a new site was found in the forest in the Manheim district of Kerpen, where the club as given permission to build its new circuit in an old gravel pit. This opened as Germany’s largest kart facility in 1980 and the following year it hosted the European Championship and in 1983 the Junior World Championship.

By then Michael Schumacher had become a star of the German karting scene. He had begun racing on the old Horrem track when he was very young and would become the German Junior Champion in 1984 and three years later would win the German and European senior titles as well. He would become the first German driver since Von Trips to win more than one Grand Prix, the only other winner being Jochen Mass, who took victory (and half points) in the tragic Spanish GP in 1975.

Michael decided in 1997 that he wanted to start his own facility and the Michael Schumacher Kart & Event-Center was opened. Initially it was an indoor kart circuit but in 2002 a 710 metre outdoor track was added. It is a bit more commercial than the Manheim Kerpen track, but it will probably survive longer. The astonishing Hambach open-pit mine (which is 33 square miles in size) has been developing since 1978, resulting in the destruction of four villages to date. Kerpen-Manheim and the neighbouring Morschenich are now in the path of this vast pit, where incidentally one can find the deepest man-made part of the Earth’s surface, 981ft below sea level. The houses in Kerpen-Manheim are gradually being bought and demolished, but it remains to be seen whether the track can survive…

Incidentally, Kerpen also has the odd distinction of being twinned with Oświęcim in Poland, better known by its German name of Auschwitz, while Wolfgang Von Trips taught Spain’s King Juan Carlos to drive.

…but that’s another story.

16 thoughts on “Fascinating F1 Fact: 3

  1. The Italians have a saying:

    “Everyone calls their priest ‘father’ – except his children, who call him ‘uncle’.”

  2. Hi Joe,
    I thought the deepest man made part of the earth was the Kola Superdeep Borehole at 12km?
    Slightly confused by your fact in the piece here?

  3. A real diamond ! One of your very best stories embracing so many facets.
    Augments your previous history showing the value of training and facilities at which we’re so bad in this country in so many fields and at so many levels. Whilst I don’t hold with bullying of any type it’s a fine line that often has to be drawn. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for bicycling and swimming where that criticism has been made. Sport is one area where achievement is readily measured and bullshit counts for nothing.

  4. Joe, I have a faint memory of reading somewhere that Taffy von Trips is credited with introducing go-karts to the European scene after having been shown this zany American device while he was in the USA for either the 1959 or 1960 USGP and subsequently buying a couple and shipping them back home. Bit cheesed off that I can’t find my notes where I’m certain I wrote all this down several years ago. 😦

  5. I’m sure I read somewhere fairly recently that the Big Hole in question was soon going to overtake the shore of the Dead Sea in distance below sea level, though I can’t see it ever becoming as much of a tourist attraction.

  6. Last thing I heard was that demolishion is virtually unavoidable. The nextdoor town is completely empty and sealed off, while all the former residents have moved a few KM’s to create a brand new village (funny to see, in the middle of some pastures), so they can still be neighbours. We were lucky enough to run a race there last October, maybe another next year, but the general view is this will end within one or two years… Sad, because it’s a challenging track.

  7. Very interesting article, thank you.
    I liked the historic part, and the Berghe von Trips story linking with the great Schumacher.
    I have been in the Kerpen area several times, and seen a couple of these gigantic open mines in Ruhr.
    Deep down you can hear the rumbling of coal excavators, while they “eat” away the villages

  8. Joe. So why was he known by Brits as “Taffy” Von Trips?
    We really cannot complain at today’s safety precautions including the halo. Too many drivers were killed at that ime

  9. What an interesting and fascinatingly linked up story. Many knew about the Schumacher/Kerpen link, but the line back to von Tripps was certainly new to me. Great research

  10. Joe, Kerpen’ s located to the west of Cologne, not the south. I’ve raced there for the first time back in 1985. Michael was way more impressive in karts watching him than Ralf, btw.

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