Car Dump, Kaufdorf


The gleam of polished paintwork and chrome has long gone. But what marvellous machines these wrecks were in the motoring heyday, when an outing by car was much more than just getting from A to B. And what a treasure trove these car dumps once were to the do-it-yourself mechanic. Armed with a toolbox, he could rummage through the wreckage in search of that elusive spare part, dismantle it, pay a pittance and rush home to clean it, oil it, fit it and get his car back on the road. Then came the era of the breaker’s yard. All usable parts were dismantled by the yard owners themselves and lined up for sale in sheds. The cars were abandoned as rusting empty shells, or in more mechanized yards, turned into compressed blocks of tangled metal. The pictures of this gloomy graveyard were taken at Kaufdorf, south of Bern, Switzerland's capital city.

Despite strong support by fans of the car dump, the long dispute between the dump’s owner and the authorities is finally coming to a close. The vehicles stand on natural open ground, thus breaking environmental laws. They all have to go. 

Wrecks at bargain-basement prices! That’s what the 3000 visitors to the auction in Kaufdorf were hoping for on Saturday, 19 September 2009. Several were successful and snapped up a car for the lowest reserve price of 50 Swiss francs. Others had to dig deep into their pockets, for example paying 17,000 francs for a 1955 Mercedes Benz 190 SL. Three Porsches from 1954 and 1957 went for between 13,000 and 16,500 francs. Within nine hours, some 800 cars came under the hammer with around two thirds sold. According to the organizers, the auction raised at least 250,000 francs. 

Owner of the car dump Franz Messerli met with considerable solidarity on the day, but despite this he said “I could have broken down in tears.” Now he intends to let the area to Romanies.

The wrecks are being slowly pulled out and being taken away by their new owners. But it’s laborious work extracting the metal carcasses from the woods with an excavator. Roger Linder, long-time employee of the car-dump owner Franz Messerli, sits in the machine and deftly digs its four teeth into another one-time prestigious automobile – a red Alfa Romeo – dropping it neatly alongside another former top-class car, a black Daimler. But both are wrecks, windows gaping open with mere shards of glass remaining, badges stolen. Much has gone “missing” and the car dump has to be barricaded shut each evening. 

Most cars are on the fringe of the woods where removal is fairly quick, but further in, between the trees, they are difficult to extract without causing them more damage. Time is getting short and if it rains for any length of time or even starts to snow, the ground will become so soft that the excavator will sink in and get stuck. So the pressure is on. Not only because of a possible change in the weather but also because buyers are impatient to get their hands on their vehicles. Roger’s phone rings non-stop with enquiries about when the purchases can be picked up. Asked how long the job will take, Roger Linder replies, “Well, it certainly won’t be quick!”

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