Posts Tagged ‘Trabant’

Avant-Garde Recyclers of Cars

Monday, February 6th, 2017


Did you know that Communist East Germany was an ingenious, albeit unintentional, recycler of cars? East Germany’s most popular car, the Trabant – affectionally called Trabi by its owners – turned out to be edible. You heard right! When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, East Germans abandoned their cars in droves and walked across the border. Many Trabis were hastily left in open fields. When the owners returned some weeks later, they found to their surprise that goats and pigs had dined on their beloved Trabis.


Pig dining on abandoned Trabi. Photo courtesy of

Pig dining on abandoned Trabi. Photo courtesy of


A 1984 UN report identified East Germany as the most polluted country in Europe. In terms of air, water and soil pollution, East Germany certainly was the most polluted European country. But East Germans were also cutting-edge recyclers of cars because Trabant bodies were made from an amalgam, called Duroplast, a material which turned out to be edible. No other carmaker can say that about its vehicles.

The East German Trabant

Between 1957 and 1990, the East German state-owned automobile manufacturer, VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke Zwickau, produced a total of 3,096,099 Trabants Before the fall of the Berlin Wall East Germans coveted those cars. To buy a new Trabi, the prospective owner was placed on a list and had to wait for delivery an average of 11 to 18 years. Aside from the lengthy wait, a Trabi was a huge financial investment. In most cases it cost the equivalent of one year’s salary. With so much riding on ownership, Trabis were well cared for and had an average lifespan of 28 years.

In West Germany, Trabis were mocked for their 25-horsepower, vacuum-cleaner-size plastic motor, their uncomfortable ride and their bodies’ fibrous reinforcing material that looked like – but wasn’t – cardboard.

What is Duroplast?

The roof, trunk lid, hood, fenders and doors of the Trabant were made of an amalgam, called Duroplast. Duroplast was made from cotton waste from the Soviet Union and phenol resins from the East German dye industry. Fibrous reinforcement was added. The resulting material was strong, light and durable.

Worldwide Recyclers of Cars

In the U.S. nearly 12 million cars are recycled every year. In Europe it is nearly eight million. Generally, about 75-80 percent of a vehicle is recyclable. That means the car is shredded, metal is recovered for recycling and the remainder is put into a landfill. The waste usually includes polymers such as plastics and resins. Not in East Germany, however. These avant-garde recyclers of cars reprocessed the Duroplast.

As discarded Trabants began filling junkyards after the German reunification, VEB Sachsenring, the same automobile manufacturer that had produced the cars in the first place, developed a way to shred the Duroplast and use it as an aggregate in cement pavement blocks. A Berlin biotech company even experimented with bacteria that would consume the car bodies in 20 days.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of






The Trabi – an ugly duckling?

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

The Trabant, lovingly referred to as “Trabi”, was the Volkswagen of East Germany. Small, slow, and unsafe, it looked a little like an ugly duckling. But, for East Germans, the car with its 26-horsepower motor and two-stroke engine was an object of intense pride and affection. Purchasers typically had to wait for delivery in excess of ten years, and its price equaled the average worker’s annual wage. The year the Berlin Wall fell, a new Trabi, straight off the assembly line, cost $8,600. And a used car might snatch an additional $4,000 because of its shorter delivery time. Trabis were big-time polluters. They produced roughly the same amount of emissions as 30 large Mercedes-Benzes. In fact, they polluted so much that West Germans called the car “Little Stinker.”

The last Trabi leaves the production line at the factory in Zwickau on 30 April 1991. (AP Photo/Eckehard Schulz)

The last Trabi leaves the production line at the factory in Zwickau on 30 April 1991.
(AP Photo/Eckehard Schulz)

Between 1957 and 1991, over three million of these Trabis rolled off the production line in Zwickau, Saxony. But after German reunification the cars could not longer be produced competitively. Many Ossis (East Germans) had traded in their Trabant for secondhand VWs or Mercedes-Benzes. Others kept them as second cars. When the last car left the plant on 30 April 1991, an era had come to an end, and the Trabant had become a piece of nostalgic history. “They were polished more than they were driven,” said Motorwelt, a German Automobile Club magazine. Over the years, the cars had been the butt of endless jokes:

A Trabi loses no oil – He marks his territory!

How do you double the value of a Trabant? – Fill up the tank!

How many workers does it take to build a Trabi? -Three: one to cut, one to fold and one to paste.

Why is a Trabant considered the longest car? – There’s 8 feet of car, followed by 50 feet of smoke.

But despite its shortcomings, Trabis made unforgettable history when they carried thousands of fleeing East Germans across Czechoslovakia and Hungary in the summer of 1989. I will never forget the images of the long lines of Trabis crossing the borders to the West and of those abandoned along the roadsides, their owners crossing the borders on foot.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.