It wasn’t long before we crossed what had been the East German border, the prow of our borrowed black Rolls-Royce cutting a clean line through arterial highways out of Berlin. Highways turned into two-lanes, two-lanes into little village streets, until we pulled into an unassuming edge-of-town industrial lot. On a far building, on a corner, stood a little Porsche crest. This is the home of one of the most secret cars in the world, a hidden product of two men in a fit of reciprocating and all-encompassing madness.
It is not by accident that Willi Thom has situated his Karosseriebau in what could be described as hiding. In English, the most basic translation of Karosseriebau would be body shop, though in Italian you’d change it to the romantic carrozzeria, or coachbuilder. The work is building cars by hand, not just adding to what’s already there.
Willi aims to be unseen to avoid unwanted attention. Here, that means pretty much all attention is unwanted for Willi, as far as I can tell. In modern Germany, Willi explains, “you can’t say what you have.” Anything ostentatious, like the coupe that Rolls-Royce lent us outside, gets spat on or worse. The aspirational, flashy American dream isn’t in the culture, especially in punk Berlin or quiet villages like where we were. Willi had the windows to his shop fogged out, for instance, so nobody can even see the vintage Porsches inside, each in various states of custom work.
It’s all in the aims of avoiding “visits in the night,” as Willi put it. He made some other vague allusions to break-ins or jealous locals otherwise pushing him out of the little town in which he lives. It was built up in the ‘90s mostly for former West Berliners to buy houses in the former East countryside when city real estate got too expensive after the Wall went down.
This is where Willi hides the most secretive Porsche shop in the world.