Posts Tagged ‘Zwickau’

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.