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German Thunderbird bikers visit Minnesota

Members of the German Thunderbirds Motorcycle Club pose with the some of the Duluth and Knife River Thunderbirds Club members Sunday evening in Cloquet on their way to a going-away dinner in Mahtowa. Jamie Lund/jlund@pinejournal.com1 / 2
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“We like to stay in da middle of nowhere,” Jurgen “JJ” Ziegler said dryly with his slight German accent, in response to the question of how he likes visiting Minnesota.

JJ, along with four fellow bikers of the Thunderbird Motorcycle Club in Germany, had flown from their hometown of Franken to meet the Duluth and Cloquet Thunderbirds chapters. Franken is roughly half the size of Duluth.

JJ, president of the German Thunderbirds, had contacted the Duluth chapter after he discovered the American club shared the same name. The groups emailed back and forth for about eight years, then the Germans decided to come to the United States and meet the local bikers.

“We kept them busy,” Russ “Rascal” Stahlbusch said. The Esko resident has been a member of the Duluth chapter since the 1990s.

The German bikers stayed at a cabin near Eveleth, on a peaceful, quiet property in the country, much different from what they are used to. They used motorcycles supplied by their hosts.

“Yeah, it's a lot different from Germany, but we like this, we got a cabin up there in Eveleth on a little lake,” JJ said. “Nothing around there, quiet, you don't see other people.”

They arrived on Labor Day Weekend and participated in a whirlwind of activities, including several local bike nights, drag races in Duluth, as well as just riding around and hanging out at the headquarters.

JJ got to ride in a street rod for the first time.

“You cannot drive a car like this on German streets,” JJ said.

“If brothers from [the] Minnesota Thunderbirds chapter say, ‘Oh, I live near there, that means about 30 or 45 minutes to go,’” JJ said, in his deep voice. “If German brothers say we live near there, it means five minutes.”

The group of 10 bikers, a mix of the Knife Falls (Cloquet) chapter, Duluth and Germans all nodded in agreement and laughed as they wait to meet the rest of the 40 bikers headed to Mahtowa for a farewell dinner for the Germans.

JJ said the landscape and weather was similar to Germany, but the Northland is usually blessed with a little more snow than they get.

With 88.6 million people, Germany is a lot more densely populated than Minnesota (5.45 million), so the men are not used to the wide open spaces and many lakes that most Minnesotans take for granted.

Most of the open lands in Germany belongs to farmers.

The Germans were excited to see their first “skunky,” as they call them.

According to JJ, there are also more restrictions in Germany with motorcycles: helmets are required and loud pipes are not allowed, nor is owning a gun.

They drive more sports bikes and not Harley Davidsons like many of the bikers here drive.

The Germans were also surprised at the poor quality of the road conditions in Minnesota compared to Germany.

“They kept saying, you are crazy (for driving on the poor roads),” Rascal said laughing.

“They came in on Labor Day, we are like family … it's like we have known them our whole lives,” said Joe “G.I. Joe” Wehmanen, the Duluth Thunderbirds president.

“It was too short, maybe one or two weeks more,” JJ said.

There are plans in the works for a few of the local Thunderbirds to visit Germany in the near future. They joke that they need to learn German before they go, as none of the local guys speak any German.

The German bikers enjoyed their visit and hope to come back in a few years.

“Next time we’ll get you out here and take you to Sturgis ,” G.I. Joe said.