THE HALF-STRONGS: UNDERGROUND AMERICAN CAR CULTURE, INTERPRETED BY THE SWISS


photo: Karlheinz Weinberger

If you follow us, you know that we just fucking LOVE how the underground culture of cars in America is re-imagined in faraway lands all over the globe. From the Germans and their drag racing scene to the British rockasilly movement and all the Japanese lowriders and Swedish hillclimbs in between, we love it all.

But what’s even more amazing to us is that some of these truly underground movements happened 60+ years ago when teen rage was really being simultaneously developed here, stateside. Before the interwebs, before the cultural saturation of television, before this stuff could traverse the globe at the speed of light, it was being spread just a little faster…at the speed of teen, son. In the late Fifties, Karl Weinberger – a Swiss amateur photographer, started to make photographs of a youth subculture in Switzerland that seemed to magnify the young outsider movement in America.

The Halbstarker, or “Half Strong” movement was made up of German and Swiss kids who’d obviously seen what was happening in the burgeoning American rock-n-roll industry, but they also seemed to have gotten a taste of the 1%-er motorcycle culture and a dash of hotrodding that was fast becoming one of the most influential mid-century American exports, too.

Weinberger was a GWC (guy with a camera) who had gotten some of his amateur photos published in the gay magazines of the day when he met a kid on the street in Zurich in the late Fifties who was dressed like some sort of beautiful caricature of Elvis, Lee Marvin, Bill Haley, the Lone Ranger and the Black Rebels. And once that kid let Weinberger in to the rest of his world that was existing just under the surface of post-war Western Europe, he wasted no time in documenting every glorious bit of it.

And see, this is what we love about offshore youth culture looking in on everything we created here in America: it all gets magnified. A good belt buckle can be a great belt buckle if it becomes a much larger belt buckle, right? Some purely functional metal hardware on a Schott Perfecto is awesome, so extending it in actual hardware to shirts, jeans, zippers and boots is more awesomer. Jelly rolls? BIGGER jelly rolls. Motorcycle boots aren’t nearly as “American” as cowboy boots, so cowboy boots with the jeans stuffed into them are better. A silver necklace? No, no, no – that won’t do…but a length of chain with an enormous old factory door lock around the neck will work just fine, thanks. It all adds a little more shock to the effect, right? Right. Especially when the world you live in is the righteous epitome of Western European culture.

The Halbstarkers were taking American underground youth culture to an extreme that, had they magically woken up one morning (after a night of doing whatever they were doing out in the Swiss woods) in Hollister, CA, would’ve probably even shocked the Americans they were sort of emulating. And Weinberger had gained their trust enough to document their lives and the lives of the subsequent outlaw cultures that grew out of them over the next three decades or so.

You can find more of Weinberger’s collection of Halbstalker in Rizzoli’s Rebel Youth. Good stuff…

Leave a Reply