Krauts in America
I actually wanted to go to L.A. But auto journalists have done L.A. to death, in both pictures and words, to such an extent that you probably would have greeted a road trip along the West Coast with a groan and a sigh and perhaps a roll of the eye. So where to go on this little holiday slash production trip? It definitely had to be someplace in America. For one thing, because my editor-in-chief wanted to have a “Krauts in America” story. For another thing, because of IHOP. IHOP is an American pancake house restaurant chain that serves breakfast twenty-four hours a day. And what a breakfast, lemme tell ya! IHOP is a dream come true. If we had IHOP in Germany, I’d eat there three times a day. Pancakes with maple syrup in the morning, pancakes with caramel sauce at noon, pancakes with blueberries and chocolate chips in the evening. Type 2 diabetes is on the house, just like the free glass of chlorinated ice water and the lemon-scented towelettes to wipe your hands.
So: East Coast instead of West. Florida. Miami. Ocean Drive. There haven’t been so many photo series from there – especially not at night, as my partner/photographer Max said. And that had its reasons, but we’ll get back to that later. Two cars accompanied us on our journey. Though the word “car” isn’t entirely appropriate – more like “absolutely awesome autos”! A Chevrolet Camaro LT1 and a Ferrari 812 Superfast. Apples and oranges, actually, but each in its own way showed me once again how profound is my love of cars – despite all the criticism and ongoing social debate. As long as you still can, I would recommend everyone to drive a car with a V-engine at some point, no matter if it’s a V8 like in the Camaro or a V12 like in the Ferrari. It’s not exactly Greta-compliant, but if you have a guilty conscience, you can always plant a few trees. It’s worth it.
A Chevrolet Camaro LT1 and a Ferrari 812 Superfast. Apples and oranges, actually, but each in its own way showed me once again how profound is my love of cars.
In retrospect, there couldn’t have been any more perfect cars for our trip. That’s because they fulfilled an important function: they opened doors to two worlds for us that would have remained closed without them. The dazzlingly colorful world of those who feel they’ve achieved something in Miami, and the surprisingly authentic world of that other group of Americans for whom a Camaro is about as spectacular as a VW Golf is for us. Though when someone drives through Germany in a brand-new Golf 8, people still stare. They want to give the new version of the evergreen a close look and talk about all the changes. It was the same with the Camaro facelift. The LT1, by the way, is the basic version of the legendary muscle car. For just thirty-four thousand dollars plus tax, the 455 hp naturally aspirated V8 with rear-wheel drive is yours. Unfortunately, Chevrolet doesn’t offer the LT1 for sale in Germany. That alone is good reason to think about emigrating. That and IHOP, of course.
Despite these privileges, it seems that in Miami you can only truly enjoy life once you’ve toiled away long enough and your work has finally been rewarded with success in the form of wealth. That’s the American dream. From rags to riches and so on. At least that’s the impression we got from Louis. We met him on a parking deck in the Design District as Max was photographing the 812 Superfast. Louis is originally from Costa Rica, came to the States without a penny to his name, founded a company that repairs and maintains elevators, and is now super rich. He drives around in a Ferrari 488. He pulled up next to the 812 Superfast, got out, took off his sunglasses, gave our car a quick inspection and passed his judgement: “It’s pretty chic, but a bit boring.”
Admittedly, next to his 488 the 812 really did seem a bit, well, conventional. Because you don’t get very far with a production version in Miami, even if it is a Ferrari. “You can buy one like that at any dealership,” Louis explained to me while his assistant was getting the drone ready. Some aerial shots for the self-made millionaire’s private Instagram account. Of course. Anyway, Louis had fitted his Ferrari with an even louder, flap-controlled exhaust and, shall we say, even more exclusive exterior. He hired German graffiti artist René Turrek to sand down the Ferrari’s standard paint and adorn it instead with the logos of his favorite fashion labels, Louis Vuitton and Supreme. By hand. What would probably be considered an act of treason in Modena is art in Miami. That’s also why he didn’t have any hassles with the trademark rights.
The logos make the 488 look a bit like a very fast handbag on four wheels, but at least it fits in here in Miami, where seemingly everyone drives a Ferrari. Or at least pretends to. During our shoots we kept meeting upon influencers who had hit the town at night with their photographers to take some pics for Instagram. A well-toned male model with five different outfits in his travel bag, an excited group of twerking Latinas – they all literally threw themselves in front of the 812 Superfast. We stood there and captured the best moments on film, otherwise no one would have believed us.
The logos make the 488 look a bit like a very fast handbag on four wheels, but at least it fits in here in Miami, where seemingly everyone drives a Ferrari.
Unfortunately, the long-awaited Ocean Drive production didn’t pan out. Not because there was too much going on along the South Beach party mile on Sunday at four in the morning, but because most of the hotels and clubs had already switched off their neon lights. So it was pretty dark. No pics of The Carlyle and no beauty shots with the famous Versace Mansion, where the eccentric fashion designer was shot twenty-three years ago. At least one hotel had left the lights on, so we were able to bring a token pic back home with us. Fortunately, the parking decks in Florida’s main city proved more reliable. They were open twenty-four hours a day and gleamed with their abundant lighting, as in the background the vibrant city glittered in the dark. But no Ocean Drive.
Standing in stark contrast to the bling-bling life in Miami was our visit to the NASCAR finals in Homestead. There is probably nothing more stereotypically American than this stock car series and everything that goes with it. Lots of people in Germany ask themselves who on Earth would vote for Donald Trump – the answer can be found at Homestead. Like that picture-book family of four all wearing the same T-shirt with “President Trump 2020, Keep America Great” on the front and “If this flag offends you, I’ll help you pack” on the back. Strong stuff.
After two corndogs, a cold Coke, a military parade, a joint prayer and a jet flyover including a parachute jump, the NASCAR heroes were brought onto the track atop massive Ford trucks, two in each bed, leaving enough space between them for the two-meter wide American flag. And after the national anthem, the four-hour conclusion to the season began. At this juncture, I’d really like to provide a graphic comparison that adequately describes the soundscape, but never in my life have I heard anything that does justice to this clamor in even the remotest sense. Even when I shouted directly into Max’s ear, he couldn’t understand a word I was saying.
Let’s just settle for “deafening”, in the truest sense of the word. For the record, Kyle Busch crossed the finish line first that night, but I only found out about it from the internet because after three hours of non-stop sonic pelting we’d had enough.
My ears were still numb and ringing the following day as we were planning the next leg of our journey over a stack of maple syrup-soaked pancakes. The Ferrari would stay in Miami and finally it was time for the Camaro, a car I’d reserved a place for in my imaginary garage for years. It packs an endless punch, its back seat and generous luggage space make it great for travelling, and thanks to the Chevy logo on the grille you instantly feel like you’re a part of this whole scene. Whether you want it or not. And because Chevrolet has been involved with NASCAR since the very beginning, the Camaro was the perfect make for our next shoot in Daytona Beach.
The coastal community north of Miami is a historically significant place for American and international motorsports. Every year at the 24 Hours endurance race, drivers from all over the world compete to the point of total exhaustion. The legendary 3.56-mile speedway with its three steep turns (usual are two) forms the center of this city of seventy thousand inhabitants. Its skyscraper-high grandstands tower far above the cinemas, shops and restaurants of the city. Everything seems to lie in the shadow of this gigantic racetrack. The second place to be is the beach. Anyone who has seen Disney’s animated film Cars 3 knows that the NASCAR series was founded at the oceanfront right here seventy-two years ago. That’s exactly where we placed the Camaro. At sunrise, of course. In contrast to our Ocean Drive flop, this worked out really well.
You’re even allowed to drive on certain sections of the beach – not more than ten miles an hour, but luckily photographers can play around with this sort of thing. There was surprisingly little happening on this picture-perfect morning, except for the estimated three hundred aquatic birds watching me curiously as I drove back and forth twenty times while Max pressed the shutter release. It’s amazing how something as loud as NASCAR could be created in what was originally such a quiet, soothing place. After explaining to the Beach Patrol that this Camaro was the latest model, with the front end slightly modified compared to its predecessor, and that the basic version is available for as little as thirty-four thousand dollars plus tax (“unbelievable!”), we went back to our usual morning routine. Though this time I chose the strawberry syrup.