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Porsche - Early Heroes

Early Heroes

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Mechanics work on a Porsche 356 during a pit stop at the 1,000-kilometer race on the Nürburgring in 1953.

The Porsche Museum is showing work by the photographer Marianne Fürstin zu Sayn-Wittgenstein as part of a special exhibition about the 1950s. We take a look at her racing shots and her eventful life.

We meet in Fuschl am See, at the legendary Forsthaus Wartenfels, an idyllic residence nestled in the woods. It is our second meeting. Andy Warhol was here, Gunter Sachs and, of course, his wife Mirja, as well as Berlin Philharmonic conductor Herbert von Karajan, Niki Lauda, and Margaret Thatcher. Marianne Fürstin zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, the grande dame of photography at 95 years of age, receives her visitors with such cheer and goodwill that each and every one feels like an honored guest.

Known as “Manni” to her friends, the charming Fürstin—a title that means “Princess”—discovered her passion for photography at the age of twelve. Thanks are due to her British governess at the time for the photographer’s extraordinary collection of more than one hundred photo albums, a large number of which focus on car racing. It was the governess who issued the following strict instruction to her young charge: “If you are intent upon pursuing such an expensive pastime, then make sure to paste the photos properly into an album.” Photography was a pleasure reserved for a privileged few in the 1930s. The princess laughs and her eyes sparkle on telling this story. She adds, “That’s how it all got started.”

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Heinz Friedrich (left) and Wittigo von Einsiedel heed the advice of the slogan on the back of their 356 in 1954: “Listen to your wives, drive carefully!”

Each photo has a handwritten caption, about which she provides amusing commentary as we talk. Her first photo of an automobile is of her brother’s pedal car, taken in the courtyard of her parents’ castle near Salzburg. A great many shots of race cars and drivers would follow. In fact, photos were added nearly every day over the ensuing 83 years. The negatives are stored safely at Sayn Castle, not far from the Nürburgring, and the albums are kept in the cellar of this residence in the forest. An exclusive selection can be found in the volume entitled Stars & Sportscars.

Her long-time friend and idol Gunter Sachs used to rib her affectionately: “Manni, you’re not a photographer at all; you just press the shutter button at the right moment.” There’s no doubt that this “mamarazza”—a title of respect bestowed by Princess Caroline of Monaco—frequently released the shutter in the right place at the right time, producing photos of astonishing openness and proximity.

The deep, extraordinary expression of the subjects of her photos was made possible through the young princess’s unusual closeness to the heroes of those early years. The charm she exudes to this day must have played a role, but it didn’t hurt that the drivers were also her friends. They, like she, were often members of the nobility. And they were as fascinated as she was by racing, which in the postwar years had not yet become professionalized. Prince Metternich, Prince Fürstenberg, Count Wittigo von Einsiedel, Richard von Frankenberg—Manni knew them all, and they all knew Manni, as well as her husband “Udi,” who drove her to the races in the family’s own Borgward station wagon.

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Marianne Fürstin zu Sayn-Wittgenstein was born in Salzburg, Austria, on December 9, 1919. After studying art at the Blocherer Kunstschule in Munich in the early 1940s, she made photography her profession. In addition to racing, her collection of more than 250,000 photos includes celebrity portraits and travel series.

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Fourteen Porsches entered the race known as the Dieburger Dreiecksrennen in 1952.

The drivers and other principal characters often met at Sayn Castle before entering races on the Nürburgring—and toasted their victories there afterward, as well as any scrapes and scratches that, thankfully, were not any worse. On attending the legendary Mille Miglia, the noble couple lodged with one of their friends, a count who had a villa at Lake Como. The fact that Porsches figure prominently in the princess’s photos hardly needs any explanation. A discriminating connoisseur of racing, she loved not only the activity itself, but also victories. And the sports cars from Zuffenhausen were a good choice right from the start as far as winning was concerned.

Her pictures, on view at the Porsche Museum in a special exhibition about Porsche in the 1950s, reveal the open and enthusiastic eye of a relaxed photographer who loves the thrill of racing. One senses that her work was not pressed into the service of contrived high aims or commercial interests. The photos by the princess are authentic—and precisely that is what ennobles them.

By Edwin Baaske

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Stars & Sportscars by Marianne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein Delius Klasing, Bielefeld 2nd edition, 176 pages German/English, 39.90 euros www.delius-klasing.de

Special exhibition

Photos by the princess and others will be displayed from June 24 to September 13 in an exhibition at the Porsche Museum entitled “From Stuttgart to the World: Porsche in the 1950s.” The museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information: www.porsche.com/museum.