When Brennabor was the symbol for bicycle
It must have been love at first sight: when the Reichstein brothers saw a penny-farthing for the first time, they were immediately hooked. Although penny-farthings at that time were still considered to be pure sports machines, and not a general means of transportation, the fascination with the new vehicle led the brothers from Brandenburg to import and sell bicycles themselves. They could hardly have suspected at the time that, at this moment, they had launched one of the most successful and impressive brand stories in German history, which only few people know today.
It all began with a small basket-making business in the middle of Brandenburg. Company founder Carl Friedrich Eduard Reichstein earned good money with basketry and wicker furniture of all kinds; and since 1835 had been self-employed as a master craftsman. It was therefore obvious that his sons would also learn the trade and successfully continue their father’s business. After a visit to a pram factory in 1868, the Reichstein brothers decided to produce prams as well; of course from the materials they were familiar with. And so they added a joinery, a cartwright’s workshop, a locksmith’s shop and a smithy to the basketry. This allowed the complete production of prams in their own facilities. Business went well, and within the first three years the number of employees grew to over 300.
When the first penny-farthings appeared in Europe, the Reichstein brothers began to import single parts from England, assemble them in Brandenburg and then sell them. At this time it was still just a hobby, as high-wheelers were highly specialized pieces of sports equipment that required a lot of skill – and were also quite dangerous. Taking a fall over the handlebars head-first, above all, was greatly feared, as this could sometimes cause very serious injuries. In England, these accidents earned the penny-farthing the nickname of “Header”, in Denmark the name “Væltepeter”.
Gradually, the brothers began to produce their own penny-farthings, at first only as single parts, but ultimately also as complete bikes. With a price that, by today’s standards, was roughly the same as for a small car, the penny-farthing was more of a status symbol for rich snobs than a means of transportation for the man on the street.
This changed abruptly with the advent of low-wheel bikes, also known as “Rovers”. The Rovers were suitable for everyday use and, although they were also high-priced products, they were affordable for the general public and also much easier to ride. The brothers immediately recognised the signs of the times and, thanks to their excellent framework conditions, they were able to start producing bicycles very quickly.
Impressions from the “BRENNABOR Industriemuseum Brandenburg”
The Reichsteins were now able to benefit from the experience they had gained in the production of high-wheel bicycles. At first they purchased the requisite parts and assembled them, but gradually they hired experts who were familiar with metal engineering, so that production was gradually transferred to their own company. In the end, the brothers were not only able to manufacture all the requisite bicycle parts at their own plants, Brennabor-Werke, but also all the production machinery they needed too.
When exactly the name Brennabor first came into use is a matter of debate. It is certain that bicycles were exhibited under this name at the first national bicycle fair in Leipzig in 1892. The oldest records documenting the use of Brennabor date from this time. However, it can be assumed that the brand name had already been in use for some time by then. This is suggested, for example, by a historical plaque of the Munich “Brennabor Fahrrad-Klub” from 1889. At that time, there must already have been some Brennabor bicycles in circulation, otherwise the club would probably not have existed.
There is an interesting anecdote about the name itself. It was incorrectly assumed in those days that Brennabor was the historical Slavic name of the city of Brandenburg. Around the year 1910, the historian Prof. Otto Tschirch, a historian, discovered this mistake, which had persistently asserted itself in the region. Nevertheless, the name remained.
The brothers liked the name Brennabor so much that in 1896 they christened the entire company “Brennabor-Werke Gebr. Reichstein Brandenburg/Havel”. A true success story then began to take shape: Brennabor bikes conquered the world. As early as 1900, they had an output of 40,000 bikes – an absolute production pinnacle in national comparison. In 1923, the millionth bicycle left the factory. An incredible total of 2.35 million bicycles were built by the brothers.
Brennabor has always stood for top quality and leading-edge technical standards. Numerous patents resulted, the documents can still be viewed at the German Patent Office in Munich. Later, when automotive engineering was added, the number of patents again increased enormously. One of the most famous inventions was certainly the height-adjustable steering wheel, which can still be found in almost every car today.
The new BRENNABOR-Models
With innovations such as the “balloon bike” in 1926 or the “balloon racer” in 1929, the Brandenburg brothers caused a sensation. Brennabor was deeply and successfully involved in bicycle racing. At the beginning of the 1930s, the “Federleicht” road racer appeared, weighing a sensational 9.5 kg. Everyday bikes such as the “Weatherproof” model, which only needed to be sprayed with water to clean it, or bikes with bottom bracket transmissions and gear shifts, gave the brand a reputation that was second to none. It some areas, the name Brennabor even came to be synonymous with bicycle.
In 1903, Brennabor began with the serial production of motorcycles, and in 1910, the first cars were built in complete proprietary design and production. The company premises were constantly and extensively expanded, an on-site power station was built, the Brennabor logistics hall even got its own train station. From there, bicycles, cars and motorcycles were shipped all over the world. In 1928, Brennabor reached its highest number of employees at roughly 8,000 workers. Given 64,000 inhabitants in Brandenburg, a large part of the population thus worked in the Brennabor factories.
The Second World War came, and with it the end of Brennabor’s heyday. When the war was over, the Brennabor-Werke shared the fate of many companies in East Germany: the owners were expropriated, and the entire machinery was transported to Russia. Although the brand lived on as a trading company in West Germany, it never again achieved the reputation of days gone by.
In the Brandenburg an der Havel Industrial Museum, you can still seek out traces of the company’s history. Visitors to the permanent exhibition can admire prams, bicycles, motorcycles and cars, witnesses to the fascinating past of the Brennabor-Werke, which at times was the largest and most modern automotive factory in Germany.
Now, 150 years after the company’s foundation by the Reichstein brothers, a new chapter has been opened: Hermann Hartje KG from Hoya on the Weser in Lower Saxony wants to help Brennabor regain its former splendour. A new, modern e-bike range spanning the categories of “Trekking”, “Retro” and “Allroad SUV” ties in with the high quality and innovative spirit of the traditional Brandenburg company. Anyone who rides a Brennabor is not just riding a bike, but a piece of bicycle history. Who knows, maybe the Reichstein brothers thought exactly the same.
Back to the future!
When the Reichstein brothers founded the Brennabor-Werke in 1871, they could not foresee the immense impact that future developments would have on the company. Two world wars, more than 6,000 employees, insolvency, the production of bicycles, motorbikes and cars, expropriation – an eventful and moving history. Now, 150 years later, a new chapter is being opened to revive the success story of the past. Brennabor is back to the future! With modern-day models and no end of ambitions!
Modern. Reliable. Top class. Brennabor bikes did not earn themselves an unparalleled reputation in the past without reason. They had an image that in some areas led to the name Brennabor becoming synonymous with bicycle. For many decades, little or nothing was heard of Brennabor, but now the sonorous name is being brought back to life. The company’s story is moving from Brandenburg to Hoya in Lower Saxony. The Hartje company, known for brands such as Victoria, Conway and Contoura, is recreating history and launching a new series of bikes under the name of Brennabor. Modern bikes with classical, elegant lines, which are also aimed at a younger target group. Bikes that you can always rely on, equipped with modern, high-quality components, created in combination with an excellent relationship to the bike retail industry.
Not least with help of a real expert when it comes to the subject of bicycles: designer Andi Heimerdinger. Countless successful bike models first took shape on his drawing board, developed for several major German bicycle companies. Andi’s “Bike Club Engineering” office is located on Lake Como in Italy, the perfect place to test and design bikes. “I hail from the MTB sector, that’s my core business”, Andi explains. “In the past, I have mainly designed high-end mountain and racing bikes. This approach should be recognisable in every Brennabor bike: they should simply be very racy and very fast. This is immensely important to me for future designs.”
Brennabor will be presenting three categories with 17 models covering the areas of “Trekking”, “Retro” and “Allroad SUV”, all equipped with an e-drive. The Allroad SUV line will be the flagship of the Brennabor family: a very modern, off-road bike, sporting street components, a side stand and a striking design. A bike built not only for a comfortable ride to work but also for off-road trails, and sturdy enough to meet all the requirements.
With Hartje as a strong partner at its side, the goal is clear: to make the Brennabor name as well known again as it once was. An exciting challenge, and a great mission. Things are on the move in Lower Saxony – the future has only just begun.