It’s probably the most unusual "tourist attraction" you’ll ever come across.

The motivating force that moves this vehicle is about as powerful as a lawnmower.

Yes, its power plant is a 500cc two cylinder stroke engine. Some have called it a “relic of the Cold War,” while others have referred to it as a showcase for the vast difference between East and West Germany.

It is the Trabant, and I drove one. Or tried to.

What is a Trabant?

It’s the amalgamation of a manufacturing process that produced a car for the citizens of East Germany in the years 1957 to 1990.

My attempt at maneuvering this "must drive" vehicle happened in Munich after the fall of the Berlin Wall when Germany became one country. 

Auto buffs will tell you the Trabant has the dubious title of “The Worst Car Ever Built.”

There’s an old fairy tale about “Old Mother Hubbard” and when she went to the cupboard it was bare. The same might be said about the Trabant. One's suspicion is that it left the place where it was assembled totally unfinished, because its interior is completely devoid of any decorations or design work. Yes, it is barren!

On a press visit to Germany, I and others in our group of American journalists in Dresden were introduced to the "Trabis."

What was fascinating on this visit, was that anything "toursity" we were shown in the former East Germany, was always managed or owned by a West German! The easterners had not gotten used to commercialism, or what was involved in making a profit.

I asked our West German tour guide to give me a briefing on some of the facts about the Trabant.

He stunned me by noting that a 10-year wait was involved, because the State was the only outlet that produced them, and—incredibly—there was no such thing as automobile showrooms. Once you actually ordered one, you were told there would be an additional wait of 13 years before it was delivered. A few moments later a colleague of our guide came over to me, and said “the nearer one lived to Berlin, would make the wait much shorter.” He never explained why. Weird!

I didn’t have the courage to drive a Trabant in Dresden, so I was delighted to hear when we arrived in Munich, we’d get to drive one.

There are many places and organizations where you can rent or drive a Trabi in Germany, and I highly recommend you go online and type in “Renting and driving a Trabant in Germany.”

As I gingerly squeezed myself into this tiny car, I noticed a huge lack of "things." Our entrepreneurial West German guide answered my query by saying, “The 1980s Trabi had no tachometer, no indicator for either headlights or turn signals, no fuel gauge, no rear seat belts, and no external fuel opening door.”

After hearing all this, I instantly realized I could not face the traffic in “Magical Munich,” and opted for the Trabant experience of just sitting in one, and looking at them, and finding out more about this strange and peculiar car.

Interestingly, many Americans after seeing and trying the Trabant, wanted to buy one which was, many years ago, another source of profits for West Germans.

However, locating an original Trabi became a huge challenge. During their lifetime from 1957 to 1990, more than 3.76 million were produced.

Contact John: jdcradio@gmail.com 

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