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.