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Germany remembers the Trabant - the height of motor luxury in ex-GDR

le mag

Germany remembers the Trabant - the height of motor luxury in ex-GDR

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The East German car par excellence, the Trabant was as much loved as it was reviled.

Produced for nearly 30 years with almost no significant changes, it was considered the height of luxury in the former GDR despite its shortcomings, notably its poor performance and its inefficient two-stroke engine.

By 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down, more than three million models had been produced.

“For people in East Germany, the Trabant provided freedom of movement in a way. They yearned for the kind of mass motorisation that was taking off in the West. And it was important to have a car that was easy to produce. The Trabant was a consumer product that the vast majority of East Germans wanted to have,” says Sören Marotz, head of collections at the DDR Museum.

The first “Trabi” rolled off the assembly line in 1958. It was modern by the standards of the day, with a steel frame and a body made of “duroplast” – a mixture of resin and cotton that gave it its nickname, “Rennpape”, or cardboard in German. The most famous model – the Trabant 601 – came out in 1964.

At a cost ranging between 8,000 and 13,000 euros, the Trabant was expensive for East Germans. But they had time to save up, as they could spend up to 18 years on a waiting list before getting their hands on one.

After the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the iconic car became a thing of the past. The last model was produced in 1991.

But it continues to fascinate up to this day and has even become a trendy collectors item. In Berlin, anyone can get behind the wheel of a “Trabi”, with the help of a professional tour guide – although driving this sputtering two-cylinder car can be a bit of a challenge, to say the least.

“The brakes… the brakes are not from 2014!”, exclaimed one tourist behind the wheel.

The Trabant – offering an authentic East German experience, complete with all the pitfalls.

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