February 24, 2012

0131 GERMANY (Brandenburg) – Trabistörche (Trabi storks)

The Trabant was one of the best known symbols of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic) and even of the whole European communist camp. Produced by former East German auto maker VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke Zwickau in Zwickau, Sachsen (in the factory in which Audi made the cars before the WWII), was the most common vehicle in East Germany, being also exported to countries both inside and outside the communist bloc. With its mediocre performance, inefficient two-stroke engine, noxious fumes and production shortages, the Trabant is often cited as an example of the disadvantages of centralized planning. However, in communist countries was regarded with affection, the Trabant owners forming a unique category, organized in numerous clubs.

It was in production, without any significant changes, for nearly 30 years, with almost 3,1 million units produced in total. Low price, low consumption (7 l/100 km), high endurance, simple construction and easy maintenance have made him a favorite of many eastern Europeans, who had a limited range of cars from which to choose. How many cars have a pet name? Well, the Trabant  (which means 'satellite' or 'companion ' in German, name inspired by Soviet Sputnik) is often referred to as the Trabbi or Trabi.

There were four principal variants of the Trabant: the P50, also known as the Trabant 500 (1957–1962), the Trabant 600 (1962–1964), the Trabant 601 (produced 1963–1991) and the Trabant 1.1 (1990–1991). The one which appears on the postcard seems to be a Trabant 601. It had a small two-stroke engine with two cylinders, and at the end of production, in 1989, it delivered 19 kW (26 horsepower) from a 600 cc (37 cu in) displacement.

The smoke and the pollution that they produced (nine times the amount of hydrocarbons and five times the carbon monoxide emissions of the average European car of 2007) was due to the fact that the engine didn’t have an oil injection system, two-stroke oil had to be added to the 24-litre fuel tank every time the car was filled up. Also the car lacked a fuel pump, so the fuel tank was placed high up, so that fuel could be fed to the carburettor by gravity.

The car’s body was also a special one, being a steel monocoque with roof, bootlid, bonnet, bumpers and doors in Duroplast (a form of plastic containing resin strengthened by cotton), making the Trabant the first car with a body made of recycled material. Therefore, it didn't rust and it could be easily repaired and painted, instead didn’t provide much crash protection.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall many of them were abandoned or sold at ridiculous prices by their Eastern owners after migrating westward. Later, as they became collectors' items, prices recovered, but they remain very cheap cars. In Romania you can now buy a Trabant with prices between 250 and 1000 euros (for the collection). The factory were the Trabant's were produced is now a Car museum, but the Sachsenring company still exists, producing components and developing prototype cars.

Former Bulgarian Foreign Minister and Atlantic Club of Bulgaria founding president Solomon Passy owned a famous Trabant, which he used to take NATO Secretaries General Manfred Wörner, George Robertson and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer for a ride. Passy's Trabant was also blessed by Pope John Paul II in 2002. In 2005, Passy donated the vehicle, which had become a symbol of Bulgaria's NATO accession, to the National Historical Museum of Bulgaria.

Regarding the impact on popular culture, I don't think there is any car in the world about which to have been made so many jokes. Behold only three of hundreds that circulated:

"How do you double the value of Trabi?
Fill its fuel tank!"

"A Trabant owner on the gas station:
- I'd like two windshield wipers for my Trabi.
- OK, it seems a fair swap!"

"A Trabant owner on a car service, says to the auto mechanic:
- I want to make some changes on it, to put them side skirts, spoiler, chrome wheels, etc. How much will it cost?
- Four Euros.
- Are you kidding me?
- Which of us started?"

I have to say that the picture isn't faked, and a brief history of it's on the photographer site. That stork's nest is on Federal Motorway 24 (that connects the regions of Hamburg and Berlin), at the exit of the Neuruppin (Brandenburg). "The owner told me the story of this most remarkable German nest site. If you want to believe him, then the Trabi was 601 as he is fully fit to drive up there. His last trip - before transport to the Bird's Nest - in Polish Giant Mountains, he had passed without difficulty. After that he was in favor of a used real cars, so a Western truck, and was then retired a long time in the barn. The steel pole was in the previous life of a power line on the highway was decommissioned for safety reasons. A nice ending for him, better than the blast furnace."

About the stamp, illustrating St. Peter's Cathedral of Regensburg, I wrote here.

sender: Nicole Kubbos (direct swap)
sent from Berlin (Germany), on 02.02.2012
photo: Günter Blutke

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