Despite the vehicle’s reputation for unreliable performance and inefficiency, there’s no denying it has enduring appeal.
Around three million Trabants, the full name for Trabis, rolled off production lines until 1991. Now, though production has long since stopped, around 34,500 Trabis are currently in use all across Germany.
“The Trabi is simply a car that stands out,” said Frank Hofmann, the owner of an online mail order business for Trabant spare parts. Hofmann himself is the proud owner of a yellow P601 – the best-known Trabant model.
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When he started his business in 2003, many people predicted a quick end to it, Hofmann explained. “At the time, we were only two employees in total and had three boxes full of parts in the basement,” he said.
Now his company employs eight people and sells 1,500 articles ranging from small screws to the vehicle’s complete engine. Interest in the iconic car goes beyond German borders, Hofmann adds.
Hofmann has sent Trabant parts to countries such as the UK, Belgium, Hungary, Russia, Australia and the US. He has even sent a brake cylinder to Namibia.
“The Trabi is not just an east German product,” said Wolfgang Kießling, chairman of the International Trabant Register, an association which holds all trademark rights to the cult automobile.
Kießling thinks an increasing interest in the iconic vehicle – especially among younger people – doesn’t only have to do with its nostalgia factor.
Hofmann agrees. “The Trabant is the opposite of our modern technical world,” he said.
Back in the mid 1950s, this is exactly what council ministers in east Germany wanted: a small, robust, economical and inexpensive car. The Trabant then quickly became the most common vehicle in east Germany.
Nowadays thousands of Germans and non-Germans alike are still driving an east German “travelling cardbox box.”
Meanwhile those who don’t own a Trabi can at least get up close and personal with one.
The history of the cult car will soon be told in the same place it began to rattle off production lines 60 years ago; at the August Horch Museum in Zwickau, a new permanent exhibition dedicated to the Trabi opens on November 10th.
The museum has recently undergone an expansion and three quarters of the new space will in future belong to the Trabant alone, said museum spokeswoman Annett Kannhäuser.