Home » Meet The Strange Motorized Chair Made By A German Company And Named After A Monster From Jewish Folklore

Meet The Strange Motorized Chair Made By A German Company And Named After A Monster From Jewish Folklore

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I don’t normally write that much about motorcycles, but that’s not because I don’t like them; I absolutely do, especially at their strange peripheries. This particular strange motorcycle really caught my attention, for a number of reasons: first, it appears to be designed like a motorized barcalounger that you can use to zip around in such a relaxed manner that you don’t even have to put out your cigar. Second, it’s named for a monster from Kabbalistic Judaic folklore that’s sort of like a clay robot brought to life with mystical Hebrew incantations. And third, it’s a vehicle from the very beginnings of DKW, the two-stroke kings who were absorbed into Volkswagen in the 1960s. That’s enough reason to waste time telling you about this thing, right? Of course it is.

In German, the Golem is called a Sessel-Motorrad or a Sesselrad, which seems to translate as “seat bike” or “armchair bike,” either of which seem to work to convey the overall tone and feeling of this thing, which, as you can tell from how it was advertised, was meant to evoke the concept of taking one of those big, overstuffed leather armchairs from a gentleman’s smoking room or library and jamming a motor and wheels onto it. Then you just sit in it and relax, occasionally applying a finger or two to the handlebars to, you know, suggest a possible preferred path of motion.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

I mean, look at these dudes:

Golemads

We have Sigmund Freud over there on the left, enjoying his cigar as he whizzes around the cobblestones, his satchel likely full of cocaine in the little luggage holder. On the right we have Goth Charlie Chaplin, similarly lounging on his Golem like he owns all of Bavaria.

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So what the hell were these things? They’re sometimes considered to be one of the first motor scooters, as in not exactly a motorcycle, because they’re less of a bicycle-derived straddle-and-ride design and more of something you sit in, even if it’s just a chair on some wheels. Built between 1920 and 1921, the Golem wasn’t exactly a massive success, but it was one of the well-known German automobile and motorcycle maker DKW’s earliest fully-built motorcycles, as the company had previously built engines that could be mounted to bicycles.

DKW, was known for their two-stroke cars, and became part of the Auto Union, along with Horch, Wanderer, and Audi, with the company’s memory surviving today as the four-ring logo used by the one still-active brand of the Auto Union, Audi. I want to mention what DKW means here, because of all carmakers named for three letters, the meaning behind DKW has changed more than any other company.

They started as a maker of steam engines in 1907, and DKW was picked to stand for Dampf Kraft Wagen which basically just means “steam powered car,” then they started to make small 18cc toy two-stroke combustion engine, so the DKW then came to mean Des Knaben Wunsch, or “the boy’s wish,” and then finally Das Kleine Wundermeaning “the little wonder” for when they started making motorcycles and then later cars.

But, at this early stage, DKW didn’t use their name on the Golem, preferring instead to market it under the Eichler & Co. name, after the designer Ernst Eichler, though the ads did reference that the Golem was built by J.S. Rasmussen’s factory, the founder of DKW. I’m not clear why this oblique way of saying who made the damn thing was chosen, but there it is.

Eichler

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In fact, all of the origin and manufacture of this thing is confusing. One source says that it was “Manufactured by Zschopauer Motorenwerke, JS Rasmussen AG, Zschopau, Sachsen, and later at an Eichler & Co. factory in Berlin,” which seems like there’s somehow three companies involved here?

The Golem had a DKW 118cc two-stroke engine, and the peculiar overall design seems to have been inspired by an American motor scooter-like machine called the Ner-A-Car, which DKW founder J.S. Rasmussen saw on a trip to the United States.

Neracar1

 

The Ner-A-Car, so named because it was “near a car” and also suggested the designer’s name, Carl, Neracher, was a hub-center-steered (as opposed to a more traditional motorcycle fork) and because of the more automobile-like chassis construction, seating position, and ease of driving, was marketed as something halfway between a motorcycle and a car.

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Golem Ner Lomos

The Golem was then followed by an updated armchair-motorcscooter design called the Lomos, and then cargo versions followed, but ultimately these sorts of loungey-armchair bikes proved to be a dead end, with DKW going into more conventional motorcycle production, becoming the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer by the late 1920s.

What really grabbed me about this motorscooter was the name, if I’m honest. There’s a certain irony of a pre-Nazi German motorcycle being named for one of the most famous parts of Jewish mysticism. A golem is, essentially, a soulless humanoid made out of pretty much anything, though earth and clay are most traditional, and given some degree of life by a skilled Kabbalist. Golems have come over the years to analogize all sorts of machines like robots and computers.

In fact, one of the earliest digital computers built in Israel in the 1950s was known as GOLEM, and you can see the name here in a 1963 article about a later version, known as the Golem B (I’ve highlighted the Hebrew name):

Golemb

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Instructions about how to make a golem are found in the Kabbalist book Sefer Yetzirah, though there are variations. Some have the golem come to almost-life by inscribing the Hebrew word for truth, emmet, on its forehead, and disabling it by erasing the first letter, leaving met, or “dead.” Some work by putting scrolls in the golem’s mouth, or, in the case of the one shaped like a funny motorcycle, filling the tank up with a two-stroke preferred mixture of 40:1 gas to oil ratio.

Prague

The most famous golem is likely the one built – well, according to legend – by Rabbi Leow of Prague, who built it to defend the Jewish ghetto from attacks and progroms. In some versions of the story, the golem, who seems to have been named Josef, goes on a rampage and has to be deactivated, and this is often used as an analogy for technology getting out of control, and may have inspired works like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

It’s all a fascinating story, and would have been pretty well-known in Germany about that time – in fact, there was a 1920 German silent movie about the golem legend, which, if you’d like, you can watch in full, right here:

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I know that says 1915, but there was actually a different 1915 golem movie, and this appears to be the 1920 version. With that in mind, in the context of the place and time, maybe it’s not so strange that this motorscooter was named Golem.

I mean, about 15 years after the Golem was sold, it would be quite strange and probably not allowed at all, but before then? It’s a pretty good name. I could see a modern off-road motorcycle or something kind of strange and rugged being named Golem today.

Also, as far as I know, this remains the only motor vehicle named for something that references the Kabbalah in any way. I could be wrong, but I think that’s the case.

 

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Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
1 year ago

Golem -> Glom -> Grom

Coincidence?

Mike F.
Mike F.
1 year ago

Interesting marketing choice. In similar veins, could we someday see a Subaru Zombie or a Ford Frankenstein?

Max Finkel
Max Finkel
1 year ago

extremely my shit.

also amazing to see the sefer yetzirah getting an autopian mention. amazing.

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
1 year ago

That riding position looks pretty comfortable. Put the handlebars at eyeball level and it’s a Youknowwhaty-Davidson.

Harris K Telemacher
Harris K Telemacher
1 year ago

On the right we have Goth Charlie Chaplin, similarly lounging on his Golem like he owns all of Bavaria.”

Is it really “goth” to wear spats and blue jeans with cuffs? Also, I really hope he’s going to the hospital to take care of that elephantiasis of his finger…

On a somewhat related note, I can’t quite make it out, but the artist on the Sigmund Freud picture looks like “Carlo Koch”? I wonder if that is the film director? He actually did direct a film as “Carlo Koch” years after this picture would have been drawn. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Koch_(director)

Arthur Flax
Arthur Flax
1 year ago

This reminds me that Dan Gurney built a sit down motorcycle called the Alligator. Didn’t build very many of them, but seems to have been built on the same theme.

Also, this reminds me, appropriate of nothing and certainly not cars, how do Jews and other readers of Hebrew figure out the words when some of the vowels (which should be placed under the consonants) are missing? In prayer books (I think…haven’t seen one in decades) we get the vowels. In newspapers, they are missing. It’s very frustrating. If it weren’t for onomatopoeia, I’d never know when a GOLM was after me.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
1 year ago

So… a bike with claymation religious overtones.
A Davey of Golems

Zeppelopod
Zeppelopod
1 year ago

Wallace and GOLMit.

“Oy, Emmet! These here, they’re the wrong trousers!”

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
1 year ago

Jason forgot to mention that JAM licensed the “Golem” name for use on its own 3-wheeler Reliant Robin competitor in the 80’s. It had a single rotor version of the rotary found in the 808, rear-wheel steering (2 wheels in the back), body made of an experimental weather-resistant paper mache-type material like the Trabant, and a steering yoke way before Musk tried to make it cool.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
1 year ago

Add a third wheel and basket, and deploy these in Walmarts for obese people to shop with.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
1 year ago

Nobody expects the Comfy Chair!

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
1 year ago

The Honda Helix was probably the closest modern equivalent of the feet forward scooter things, although it used a conventional front instead of the Ner-A-Car hub center setup

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
1 year ago

Off on a distant tangent, you are probably too young, but do you recall an awful 1960’s game called Ka-Bala? I think a company called Transogram made it. It was kind like a Ouiji board on a fitness rocker. It was made out of glow-in-the-dark green plastic and had black orb with a round, single eye (called the Eye of Zohar). Zohar looked like that giant spider robot from the original “Jonny Quest.” To play the game, you put a marble in a groove, then put your fingertips on the edge of the game board, which rocked freely. The marble would roll and pause at various places featuring letters, zodiac signs, and “yes” and “no” labels. In this way you could have your future or fortune foretold. There were also Tarot cards, but I don’t remember how they figured in. Anyway, Ka-Bala was supposedly inspired by Kabbalah. When I first heard Madonna practiced Kabbalah, I thought people meant she was playing this stupid game. So, there you go. Happy Passover!

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
1 year ago

I thought the recipe for a golem was one block of iron on the ground, three blocks of iron horizontally on top of that, and then place a jack-o’lantern on top to bring it to life. Then sit back and watch it throw zombies 30 blocks into the air.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
1 year ago

My son would get what you meant. He’s deep into Minecraft. I, on the other hand, have no idea.

Zeppelopod
Zeppelopod
1 year ago

God, I can hear the incessant “hrrnghmh” of the villagers.

Bracq P
Bracq P
1 year ago

Cool find. It wasn’t a success though. Mentions that a fall is impossible, so I thought it would be a trike, but not the case.

Jeff Diamond
Jeff Diamond
1 year ago

On a somewhat related note, Happy Passover Jason

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
1 year ago

Fascinating! One wonders if any Golems survive or if they all were, uh, deactivated like their namesake. And, speaking of portmanteau names, one is reminded of another fascinating motorcycle from the same era which was manufactured by a company called Megola after the founders whose surnames were Meixner, Cockerell, and Landgraf; the motorcycle was most notable for having its engine, a rotary (radial) one, INSIDE the front wheel which made it a front-wheel-drive motorcycle! Among other interesting features, the front tire used a sausage inner tube rather than a donut inner tube to facilitate repairing leaks without having to remove the wheel containing aforementioned engine.
Here’s a particularly lovely example:
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6f/MHV_Megola_01.jpg

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
1 year ago

Ive seen a lot of similar type vehicles designed for handicapped persons from ww1 to ww2

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
1 year ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Those generally had 3 or 4 wheels, like the post WWII Invacar made by Greaves motorcycles

Cerberus
Cerberus
1 year ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Yup, invalid carriages. Big market with injured veterans. That’s what I thought of, too, minus a wheel or two. There were also unpowered ones that could be operated by legs or arms or some combination.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
1 year ago

Isnt Madonna a golem? I heard she was into kaballah. She certainly has the look.

Drew
Drew
1 year ago

Wow. How’d we get so bad at scooters since then? If anything, we should have leaned further into the comfortable chair design. I want a scooter with a leather armchair that practically demands I enjoy a glass of Scotch and a cigar while I ride in comfort. Or a recliner scooter. Let’s go way too far and give me a scooter that allows me to soak in a claw foot tub while I ride.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
1 year ago
Reply to  Drew

Honda Goldwings get pretty close to Barcalounger-level seats. As for the tub, you could fill a Morgan trike with bath water. Might need a little caulk here and there for leaks. Making a tub work on 2 wheels might be tricky though.

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
1 year ago

There was that thing from the 30s/40s that was gyro stabilised, that could work.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
1 year ago

My precious! Oops, you said Golem, not Gollum.

Like you, my first reaction at a German company using a name from Jewish mythology was “wait, what?” Then I saw the timeframe was immediately post-WWI, so the virulent anti-Semitism hadn’t quite set in yet.

I have to think these would have worked better as a trike. Wouldn’t the seating position make putting one’s feet down at a stop a bit awkward? In any case, the truncated branches of vehicular evolution are often fascinating.

Adam Rice
Adam Rice
1 year ago

I had read of the Ner-a-car before, but had a chance to see one this past weekend, along with a similar—but even more flamboyant—motorcycle called the Majestic, which was made in France. If you’re ever in Dallas, check out the Haas Moto Museum.

Balloondoggle
Balloondoggle
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam Rice

That’s a HUGE headlight!

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
1 year ago

“…his satchel likely full of cocaine in the little luggage holder. On the right we have Goth Charlie Chaplin, similarly lounging on his Golem like he owns all of Bavaria.”
This is why this site is so awesome…
GOLD, Jerry…GOLD

A. Barth
A. Barth
1 year ago

Sessel-Motorrad or a Sesselrad, which seems to translate as “seat bike” or “armchair bike,”

IMO “armchair” is a much more correct translation. Seat would most likely be represented by Sitz, as in Kübelsitzwagen (“bucket seat car”), AKA VW Type 82.

It’s interesting: the ads focus on the Sesselrad’s suitability for all jobs (“für alle Berufe”). I suppose at a high level, a Golem is something designed to do the heavy lifting (both metaphorical and literal) for you, so the association makes sense.

ES
ES
1 year ago

goth charlie chaplin. what a lovely what-if. put the little tramp in a room of goth kids 30 years ago, turn on a camera, and you’ve got the greatest film (n)ever made.

Last edited 1 year ago by ES
Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
1 year ago

Just not a good name. I never even liked the way it rolls off the tongue.

Where were Sam and Dean? They really should have made sure this never happened.

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