The Puzzle People and the Trouble with Trabis

Doug poses next to a Trabant used by the East German police. It’s not that Doug is incredibly tall. The Trabi is just that small.

The votes are in, and East Germany’s Trabant has been named the 9th worst car of all time, according to Edmunds.com. Much of my new novel, The Puzzle People, takes place in East Berlin during the Cold War, so the Trabant has a way of popping up throughout the story. So I must confess I have a fond feeling for this ultimate global lemon–the “Trabi” as it is affectionately known.

As the Edmunds editor, Scott Oldham, put it, “Over the years, the Trabant has become an underground poster child for bad global cars. It was produced for a long time, but never got better, never embraced any technology improvements.”

To add insult to injury, back when the Berlin Wall still stood, East Germans had to be put on a waiting list for over 10 years just to obtain a Trabant.

East German joke: What’s the best feature of a Trabant? There’s a heater at the back to keep your hands warm when you’re pushing it.

It supposedly took 21 seconds for a Trabant to go from zero to 62 miles per hour, and its top speed was 70. But like so many things from communist East Germany, the products were so awful that they have become almost lovable to people in the 21st Century.

Today, you can find the wildly painted Trabants used by the rock group U2 in their Zoo TV tour hanging from the ceiling of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. You can also see Trabis scooting around Berlin loaded with masochistic tourists who actually pay for the infamous honor of being squeezed into one of these cars.

East German joke: When does a Trabi reach its top speed? When it’s being towed.

There’s even a small Trabi museum in the heart of Berlin.

In case you’re wondering what car was named the worst of all time by Edmunds, it was the 2001 Pontiac Aztec. This car earned that dubious honor because it was the only car on the list that actually took down a car company. According to Edmunds, the Aztec destroyed the 84-year-old carmaker.

But my vote still goes to the Trabi.

East German joke: What’s the best way to double the value of a Trabant? Fill up the tank.

By Doug Peterson

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2 COMMENTS

  1. As far as I remember, the Trabi’s were made of a ceatirn kind of plastic. Whether they drove that slowly, I do not know. Before the fall of communism, on the transit route to Berlin, we always had to adapt our speed to the Trabi’s. If you drove more than one hundred kilometres per hour, you could get a severe fine, to be paid in West Marks. Everywhere helicopters were in air watching us. Quite exciting to reach Berlin without fines.

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