Urged by Hitler to attempt a new land speed record, Bernd Rosemeyer pushed his unwieldy, mid-engine Auto Union car so fiercely that it actually became airborne. A highway bridge abutment ended his career and life.
Even today for many tourists their most vivid memory of Germany is a silver-gray Mercedes springing into the rear-view mirror with headlights flashing and the distance closing at lightning speed. However, most tourists and many Germans are unaware that there is an autobahn historical marker dedicated to sheer speed about nine miles south of Frankfurt.
Just as he fostered the 1936 Olympics to further the Nazi cause, Hitler encouraged German drivers to aim for the world land speed record. With that in mind the Frankfurt—Heidelberg autobahn was closed on Jan. 28, 1938, while Germany’s top drivers vied for superiority on the “flying kilometer”-- aptly named, as it turned out.
Despite failing light at these higher latitudes and notoriously unpredictable winds gusting out of the pine forests, the carefree 27-year-old Rosemeyer was stung when Mercedes earlier in the day clocked a record 270.4 mph. When he reached his measuring point in the early twilight, Rosenmeyer had reached 270 mph with his monster Auto Union steed screaming like a Wagnerian soprano.
Those of us who have flown into Frankfurt Airport no doubt have glimpsed the autobahn cutting a dual pathway through pine forest. The airport sits near a river confluence where the cooler Rhine influences tricky winds by absorbing the flow of the warmer Main. The Rosemeyer monument stands at the south end of the first autobahn parking area south of the Langen-Morfelden exit, about midway between Frankfurt and Darmstadt. Germany’s auto clubs continue to place wreaths and flowers at its base.