chapter capsules Chapter 8 — The Red Army Faction

January 1971 – June 1971, 42 pages: This chapter will follow the Baader-Meinhof Gang as they become a phenomenon within Germany. A portion of the chapter will explain how the growing hip notoriety of the Gang helps inadvertently rescue a major automobile-maker from oblivion—the Baader-Meinhof Gang saves BMW.

As an underground band constantly on the move, the Baader-Meinhof Gang is in constant need of automobiles. They quickly find that the easiest car in Germany to hotwire is the compact little BMW 2000. BMW has spent the previous decade under the constant threat of bankruptcy, their plain yet fast little cars failing to excite Germans. When the Baader-Meinhof Gang unofficially adopts the BMW as their car of choice, the old Bavarian car company begins to shed its staid image. Soon young Germans began to joke that BMW was not an acronym for “Bayerische Moteren Werke” but instead stood for Baader-Meinhof Wagen.” Without ever changing the basic design of their cars, BMW will find the sales of its cars taking a quantum leap in sales over the next few years, as their cars become hip, trend-setting status symbols.

This time period also represents the gang’s first effort to take hold of their own image—an image that heretofore had been completely dictated by the press. Meinhof writes up a manifesto and Baader designs a logo; they name themselves “The Red Army Faction.” To their chagrin and frustration the press will continue to refer to them as “The Baader-Meinhof Gang.”

This chapter will also revisit various members of the Kommune I, the people who had first inspired Baader and Ensslin to burn down the Frankfurt department store in 1968. Now many of the members have formed their own terrorist band, the Movement 2 June, and have adopted West Berlin as their turf.