99 Years Ago Today. The First American Enters Germany On A Harley. The Iconic Picture Re-Created In Original Location.

“99 years ago…, …on November 12th 1918, a photographer walked out of his studio, awoken by the sound of German military boots walking on cobblestones. Not in unison, as coming in the past four years, but slow and out of marching step. War was over November 11th at 11 a.m. The “Great War” came to a sudden and unexpected end. It wasn’t the end of the war, only the Armistice, but at least the killing had stopped and the German troops were now marching east, back home. This photographer saw a chance – to take a picture of the retreating German Army at a very special location, not to0 far from his shop, one that would symbolyse the downfall of the Kaiser Reich. So he took his equipment, walked along the road beside the troops and arrived at the selected spot. Then, he set up his equipment. Photographing in 1918 was far from what we know today. Even those who have photographed slides and film would be challenged to operate a 1918 equipment.

When he had set up tripod and camera, something strange happened. A motorcycle with a sidecar was coming down the road and stopped almost in front of him. Waiting to turn left through the passing soldiers. Motorcycles were a common sight in this war-busy town, so he probably did not notice that this motorcycle was different – and the uniform of the rider was different too. The image in his box camera was inverted – and probably upside-down. It did make a nice picture – and he shot it. It was the image of a then corporal named Roy Holtz. But it took another World War to discover that image (top picture) published in 1944 in the Harley-Davidson Enthusiast Magazine with Roy Holtz telling the journalist a little bit of his story. The days before and after this iconic image was taken that day have remained a mystery. But no more, says “Motographer” Hoest Roesler.. After 10 years of effort and research Horst has tracked down the history of not just this image, but also how it came to this almost impossible situation: an American soldier riding a Harley among German soldiers retreating to their country!

“I knew for a long time, like many, about the image and story, but estimated the chances of tracking down the location, which I knew would be “core” of any story, were slim to nil. When I finally found out the location, I saw to my surprise that I had passed that very spot several times without ever notifying that THIS is where the picture was taken!” says Horst.

“On December 4, 2007, I stood at the spot and could not believe it. But that was rather the beginning than the end of the search. Dieter Hofem, owner of Chem-Tools (chem-toole.eu), a producer of high-profile custom-motorcycle, antique and custom-car cleaning products had a 1916 Model “J” which had one flaw. No sidecar. But at my request he did find a period sidecar used until now as a flower pot… With it he was able to restore the complete 1916 sidecar. Excited by my project, he found a GENUINE Doughboy Uniform on eBay (Third Army, but that’s was close enough…)

By April 2009, the project was ready to hit the road. Not just had the Motographer in 2008 researched the unit Holtz was fighting for, but also where they fought, where and how he got lost, where and which unit really took him prisoner. The 5th German Bavarian Division at that time fought its way home against British Troops along the Schelde river in northern Belgium and was thus out of the picture.. How the hell it worked out that Holtz ended up at that location where the image was taken in 1912? In May 2009 Horst Roesler financed a trip and the filming of a documentary video by “Biker Lifestyle TV” specialist Gerd Scheidel during which they re-created the original image in the very same spot where Holtz was photographed.”

Visits to the USA before and after the filming brought more details and added up to a spectacular story, so much more complex than as told in the February 1944 issue of the Harley Enthusiast Magazine, which has been the base of so many miss-interpretations through the decades. These included visits to the family, the National Archives in Washington, US-Army Archives/Carlisle, Bavarian War Archives Munich, Wisconsin State Museum/Madison, Harley-Davidson Museum Milwaukee and almost all American WW-1 Cementeries in France, not to forget almost annual visits to the World War 1 Battlefields of the AEF and the collection of books, maps and images, often period stuff from Flea Markets and antique bookshops… The 100th anniversary of this iconic picture is approaching and Horst Roesler has to complete the story and publish it.

Horst adds: “through the research many questions were asked and answered. For example, somebody asked: “What happened to the Motorcycle of Roy Holtz?” Oddly enough, a visit at the National Archives gave a possible answer to that. All vehicles used by the American Expedition Forces were either sold or scrapped when the war ended. The NARA Archives have some images that will make you weep: thousands of Indian and Harley-Davidson Motorcycles (as well as cars, trucks and other hardware) were piled up for scrap in several locations in France. Those bikes that were in working conditions and were sold mark the beginning of the Harley-Davidson scene in Europe. And some of those 1917/18/19 models still operated today can be traced to locations were the AEF fought, rested or stayed in Germany as the Army of Occupation. But that is only one small facet of a very long and unbelievable story”  To follow…

A little Post Scriptum by the “Motographer” is also neccessary. “Even before superimposing both images recently, I was aware that I had “messed” up the re-creation at least slightly. While I got right the correct frame and location of the Harley, I did mess up slightly the tripod height. Dieter’s head should have hit the balcony instead of being slightly below. This was due to the bad and hectic on-site traffic conditions. It was just luck that we got a shot without cars AT ALL on a Monday morning. And when it started raining, as almost all of the first November days of 1912, the chance for a repeated shot was gone…”

16 Responses to “99 Years Ago Today. The First American Enters Germany On A Harley. The Iconic Picture Re-Created In Original Location.”

  1. 1 KIrk Perry Nov 12th, 2017 at 9:49 am

    Amazing and fantastic. Best motorcycle story of 2017. Thanks!

  2. 2 Bryan Sutil Nov 12th, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    Very interesting story, but how to know for sure the true facts.

  3. 3 Tony Prela Nov 12th, 2017 at 12:25 pm

    Yep, but where was the picture taken? In Germany? Where is going this American soldier on his H=D? Guiding German troops back home? Strange.

  4. 4 Bruce Nov 12th, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    Well. No witnesses alive!

  5. 5 Boots Nov 12th, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    Great story! Its a shame the majority of these motorcycles were scrapped after the war !
    What a waste !!

  6. 6 NaNa Nov 13th, 2017 at 8:14 am


  7. 7 Max Nov 13th, 2017 at 9:58 am

    Great read this morning, thanks

  8. 8 Blind Man Nov 13th, 2017 at 4:50 pm

    great story. amazing photos!

  9. 9 Greeko Nov 13th, 2017 at 5:18 pm

    Reasom why Cyril Huze is Sir Huze and Horst Roesler is the industry historian.

  10. 10 Tony Pacer Nov 13th, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    Have dinner with 2 thse guys. You will learn a lot

  11. 11 Sgt Wilson Nov 13th, 2017 at 5:26 pm

    I agree. Best story of 2017.

  12. 12 Mike Parent Nov 13th, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    More like that!

  13. 13 Kenneth Nov 13th, 2017 at 5:42 pm

    When is published the follow up?

  14. 14 Francesco Nov 15th, 2017 at 5:54 pm

    Quels beaux souvenirs!!!

  15. 15 garagedog Nov 15th, 2017 at 11:51 pm

    Wonderful story, look forward to next installment.

  16. 16 burnout Nov 16th, 2017 at 11:28 am

    Cool! peace

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Cyril Huze