The Trabant was, according to Dan Neil in Time, one of the 50 worst cars of all time. And whilst it can't be doubted that the little car from Zwickau in the former East Germany has its idiosyncrasies, I'm not sure that particular label is very fair. Admittedly it might not make it into the list of the 50 best cars of all time, but the underpowered (26hp), Duroplast bodied (recycled cotton waste and resin) car has become something of an icon since the fall of the Iron Curtain.
For those visitors to Berlin (or Dresden) wishing to make up their own mind about the credentials of the Trabant (or Trabi), it is now possible to experience these unique vehicles at first hand by way of a "Trabi-Safari". Driving one of the custom painted cars in convoy through the city is certainly a unique way of seeing the sights, all the while accompanied by your guide's commentary (and reassurances to the last car that they are waiting around the corner for you!). It's difficult to come away from a Trabi-Safari without a soft spot for the East German attempt at mirroring the success of West Germany's Beetle.
Once you've checked in at TrabiWorld, you'll be introduced to your chariot for the next hour (or two). Don't be surprised if you don't spot the gearstick immediately, and if you're used to driving a big automatic Mercedes you might want to take something to calm your nerves at this point! Fortunately you'll get a quick lesson on how to make your new friend move forward (reverse apparently requires some sort of degree in engineering, but you probably won't need it) before firing up the beast of a two-stroke powerplant. It's not dissimilar from starting up your lawnmover.
The chances are that there'll be a few of you on safari, so it's at this stage when everyone has started their engines that you'll notice another of the Trabi's idiosyncrasies - they're not exactly up there with a modern car on the emission front. It's time to move off in convoy, and this is where it gets exciting! Depending on the tour you've opted for, you'll now get to see the city from a unique perspective. And you'll have your photo taken by tourists when you're at the traffic lights - which if you're sitting behind the lead car is just fine, but if you've got stuck at the lights whilst the rest of the group has made it through you'll probably be more interested in where they've disappeared to. Fortunately the guides in the lead car know that this happens, and always have an eye out for stragglers.
It doesn't take too long to get the hang of the gear change, so relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of the city - and the smell of the Trabi in front of you.
Unless you normally drive a big automatic Mercedes, the likelihood is that you will have fallen in love with the Trabi during your time together, and having returned to base and been given your facsimile DDR driving licence (and taken at least a hundred photos of you and your new best friend) you'll no doubt be looking to buy some Trabi related merchandise in the gift shop. You should still have a big smile on your face at this stage.
Of the three tours available in Berlin (one in Dresden), we opted for the "Wild East Tour" which, as its name suggests, takes you past some of the main sights of the former east of the city, including the Brandenbug Gate, Alexanderplatz, Karl-Marx-Allee, the TV tower, East Side Gallery and more during the 60 minute tour. The "Classic" tour takes you more through the western half of the city, whilst the "Wall Ride" is a longer tour that takes you to historical locations along the course of the Wall and includes not only a traditional Russian snack but also at Checkpoint Charlie you'll have your papers checked to make sure they are in order!
So, it may not be the best car in the world, and I won't be buying one to drive on a daily basis, but I can't think of many more fun ways of seeing Berlin in an hour!
Classic Tour and Wild East Tour:
€34 per person (4 people per Trabi)
€39 per person (3 people per Trabi)
€44 per person (2 people per Trabi)
€60 for single person
The Wall Ride:
€79 per person for 3 - 4 people per Trabi
€89 per person for 1 - 2 people per Trabi
Whilst it is possible to turn up on the day, we would strongly recommend booking in advance to ensure that you aren't disappointed.
*Prices correct at date of publication.
About The Author
Jonny Mardling is the Editor of The History Herald. He has a keen interest in Second World War and Cold War history, and with a great grandfather who was killed during the Battle of the Somme, he also has a fascination with First World War history. Read more about Jonny »