RAD Spotlight: Wall of Death with Donald Ganslmeier

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Don Strauss vs. the Wall of Death

The Wall of Death has been one of the most daring motorbike stunts for more than a century. You enter through a small door at the base of a large, wooden ‘drum’ and ride inside the death-defying vertical wall. We had a chance to check out the Wall of Death in action at Wheels and Waves and meet with Donald Ganslmeier; professional Wall of Death rider and owner of the oldest wall in the world. 

How did you get into this? Where did it all start?

I’d seen it first at the age of 6 years old with my Grandad and I always wanted to become a Wall of Death rider. I started to learn how to ride in England 24 years ago, with my mentor Ken Fox at the Fox Family Wall Of Death, and that’s how everything started.

How long were you staying in England for?

About 8 to 9 years, but only in the Summer. In the winter, I’d go back to Germany, to Munich, and work there at a bar or truck driving or small jobs; but in the summertime, I’d always be in England to ride the wall. 

Learning from them and taking it back to Germany, are you travelling all over the world with it?

There are many walls around the world; but in those old days 24 year ago, there was no chance for me to learn it in Germany so I had to go to England to learn it there. Then I came back after 9 years to Germany and then 7 years ago I bought my own wall in Germany. Here at Wheels and Waves, it’s only for guest riders. It’s based in Munich but we travel around; we’ve been in Switzerland this year and going to Austria next, so we’re always on the road.

Are you always doing it with events or is it separate?

Yes, it’s different events like music festivals, motorcycle events like this year at Wheels and Waves. We’ve got another one called Club of Newchurch in Neukirchen. We’ve going to be at Wacken Open Air, the heavy metal festival. It’s totally different.

Going back to when you were learning this, it looks gnarly and pretty dangerous. Have you had any injuries?

I’ve fallen I think 18 times? Something like that; and it always hurts. Mostly you break something or rip something off and skin comes off, but that’s part of the job.

And what sorts of speeds are you guys going?

45km/h. The lowest you can get is 43.8km/h; if it’s lower, you’ll slip off. You need the G Force to pressure you against the wall; this is 3.5 G Force that we have. 

I saw you using the Indian bikes, are you using those bikes the whole time?

Yes. In the old days, in the ’20s when the Wall of Death business started, they were brand new bikes and very reliable and very strong bikes. So all the guys decided that was the perfect bike for the wall; and the lowest heavy point is underneath the axles, which makes it very easy to steer on the wall. You can steer it with your hips and that makes it easy to ride and as I said, it’s very reliable and a very good bike. 

With our audience, we focus on the travel side of things. Is there’s any particular place you love going to?

No, because every place is different and every place is a new experience with different people. I can’t say this my special place and I don’t like this one; I don’t want to and there’s no reason why because every place is different and nuts! 

Is there anywhere on the bucket list? Either an event or a location either for work or just to check out?

I would like to ride a Wall of Death once in my life in Coney Island in New York, but I think that’s never going to happen. But yeah, it’s nice and every year something new happens and there are things coming up. 

Thanks Don.

Keep up to date with Donald Ganslmeier on Instagram.


Photo credits: Oli Russell-Cowan
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Oli Russell-Cowan

The concept for Rad Season came about when I was trekking around Latin America. I found it difficult to find cool events and festivals going on that were a bit different and had an element of adventure and general radness to them. I knew that there was always something rad worth going to somewhere in the world, but there was no single platform bringing them together for like-minded people. With over 15 years experience in international business development, spanning multiple industries including action sports, events, media, digital, ICT, travel and tourism, I decided to combine them all with Rad Season.


One thought on “RAD Spotlight: Wall of Death with Donald Ganslmeier

  1. iain Lygo says:

    I just saw a “wall of death” show in a remote part of Indonesia. It started with the riders pouring petrol into their tanks from water bottles cut in half (and a cigarette in the same hand), and it didn’t get any safer after that!!
    The riders grab tips and cigarettes from the spectator’s hands, put the money over their eyes, and smoke the cigerettes while riding side-saddle. No hands of course. It’s madness on an industrial scale.
    Apparently the carnival’s ferris wheel fell over a month ago killing six people. It was still taking passengers in the land that health and safety forgot.

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