That time I drove through Berlin

This is the one. This is the one I’ve been planning to write for a long, long time.

Almost a rental car round up but so much more.

Once, not so long ago, I drove a vehicle I had hoped to drive since the moment I learned of its existence. When I was a boy of no more than six I dreamt of driving a #Beetle and when I finally got the opportunity to purchase one I did. I loved that car, a 1974 standard with an aftermarket ragtop, and owned it longer than any other car. I eventually sold it as my family grew. This is NOT the vehicle I am writing about.

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My 1974 Beetle 1600

As young boy, I also loved the movie Back to the Future and subsequently the DeLorean. I haven’t driven one – yet – and so naturally this is not the car I’m writing about.


Photo Credit: Universal

In fact the car I’m writing about is derived, so heinous that its mere existence is appalling on a level most car aficionados would put the #Pontiac #Aztek in. A car which I also happen to love but for different reasons.

The car I’m writing about is called the #Trabant… or #Trabi for short. Most Americans know nothing of it. In fact its only claim to fame being that of #U2 album cover or maybe the first car to made out of cotton. You see, the Trabi was the Eastern German version of the people’s car, the volks wagen which mean… well people’s car.


Photo Credit:

Limited production capabilities, materials and skilled labor lead to… ingenious(?) solutions. I first learned of this car in 2006 during my introductory German language class. I was instantly hooked. My German teacher found it rather hilarious that an American could become so infatuated with a car he’s never seen, heard, nor touched. It’s very existence intrigued me. I had to know more.

Whenever projects came about mine were always Trabi focused. I loaded one into Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. I drew them on my notebooks next to doodles of #VW Beetles, it was like I had fallen in love with German twins separated at birth. I HAD to drive this car.


After my stint at college I was lucky enough to land a job in Germany. My wife and I had just married and we were prime to explore the continent. I scoured the German version of Autotrader for Trabants and while they were present I couldn’t bring myself to get one. The two-stroke engine, horrible exhaust and poor build quality didn’t scream daily driver. Did I mention it was made of cotton? These cars put American “coal rolling” to shame. Sorry #Texas.

Time moved on and we had our first child thus completely closing the door to cruising the autobahn in a cotton-fiber bodied, snowmobile engine powered sub-subcompact. But alas I still kept looking. My sister-in-law was coming to visit and she wanted to see Berlin, the walls with the murals. Go to Europe, spend some Euros.

My wife, amazing and devoted as she is, happened across a Berlin auto tour website called Trabi-Safari. When she realized what vehicle it was she just about dropped her #Macbook. You could rent a Trabi, drive in a convoy, and get a tour of the city all in one go! I repeat DRIVE A TRABI. My sister-in-law was onboard and the car was booked. Now I may have been a little withholding about the actual amenities of the vehicle  and needless to say they were a little surprised at the car that appeared before them. Add to that my son was with us as well.


We strapped him into the baby bjorn, my wife climbed in the back with my sister-in-law riding shotgun. There was a brief instructional seminar in broken English and we were off.


This car was just as promised. Horrible. And I LOVED every second of it. Whenever my father says, “well, you’ve never driven a car with a stick shift on the column” I can reply, “Oh yes I have and it was Eastern German and it was nothing like anything ever.”


Let me clarify. The gas pedal is less of a pedal and more of a nub. The shift pattern is absolutely baffling. If you don’t keep the car moving the engine will flood (yes, flood like a lawn mower) and you’d be stuck in the middle of a Berlin intersection hearing things like “Wunderbar” and “Kugelschrieber!” Well maybe not those words, but you get the picture.

Ours was a leopard print and there was a line of about 10 or 12 of these exhaust monsters trouting through downtown Berlin. People stopped, took pictures and waved. It was all jovial and fun… and nerve racking keeping the car going. It was worth it. The ride was shoddy and the guy in front of me had never driven stick before, let alone an Eastern German one, and he was hesitant to venture into traffic which made keeping my car from stalling even more of a challenge. Again, I loved it!


It was good fun. Everyone enjoyed themselves including the toddler strapped to my wife. In fact, we were laughing and almost giddy… perhaps because of fumes or perhaps because of this little car. A car that never meant to be charming, never meant to be anything but the workhorse for the downtrodden soviet satellite of Eastern Germany.

The waiting list for these cars new drove up the premium on used cars which could retail for almost four times as much. People would buy them ten years or more out, make payments, and eventually receive their car. After the fall of the Berlin wall many were abandoned. If they caught fire, they would melt. Some who had purchased one just never received theirs. They are still waiting today.


And I, well I’m still waiting for the second time I get to drive one…


One thought on “That time I drove through Berlin

  1. Pingback: The American Micro-Car Company You’ve Heard Of But Didn’t Know Existed | Soap Box Racer

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