When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

The Trabi, East Germany's VW Beetle Offers Clunky Nostalgia

A Trabant 601S in Bucharest
A Trabant 601S in Bucharest
Stefan Anker

BERLIN - Anyone who owns a Trabant — or "Trabi" as the East German cars are called these days, often with a mixture of affection and amused derision — really wants to own one. But probably not as a financial investment, because even a beautifully maintained Trabant P601 fetches no more than 3,000 euros. Instead, Trabi owners are motivated by the nostalgia their cars inspire. Production ended in 1989, and anyone who maintains a Trabi is preserving a clunky little piece of history.

According to the German Federal Motor Transport Authority, there were still 32,485 Trabants on German roads as of Jan. 1 of this year, 488 fewer than the previous year. But the phenomenal decline in Trabant numbers witnessed after the re-unification of Germany has essentially halted, and the Trabant has become a cult hit that has captured the imagination of collectors and sentimentalists.

There are reams of jokes and anecdotes Trabant owners love retelling. ("Why does the deluxe Trabant have an electrically heated rear window? So your hands don't get cold when you’re pushing it.") They also love to discuss how ingenious some of the car's technical solutions were for back in the day.

And in 1957, that may have been true. But with each passing year, the Trabant’s loud two-stroke engine (26 horsepower, 600 cc) became more and more outdated, as did its Duroplast body, especially compared to Western cars, which constantly had to improve to deal with intense competition from abroad.

What’s more, Trabants took a long time to produce, and they were certainly not rust-proof: Many a Trabi frame rusted away.

So over the years Trabis became the stuff of caricature, particularly in the West where there was no emotional tie to it.

What spoke most for the Trabant — whose creator, Werner Lang, recently died at age 91 — was that it existed at all. "We were able to go all over with it," is what former East Germans unfailingly remember about the car. Wait a minute, isn’t that the point of a car? Yes, but East Germans didn’t have any other cars. All they had was the Trabant.

As a symbol of mass motorization the Trabant was to East Germany what the Volkswagon Beetle was in the West, but with one crucial distinction: Though more than three million of them were built, the Trabant was never able to meet the huge demand for the cars. The production shortages became additional fodder for the jokes that are now just as much a part of the cult of the Trabant as the vehicles themselves.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


First It Was Poland's Farmers — Now Truckers Are Protesting Ukraine's Special Status

For the past month, Poland has been blocking off its border checkpoints to Ukrainian trucks, leaving many in days-long lines. It's a commercial and economic showdown, but it's about much more.

Photogrqph of a line of trucks queued in the  Korczowa - border crossing​

November 27, 2023, Medyka: Trucks stand in a queue to cross the border in Korczowa as Polish farmers strike and block truck transport in Korczowa - border crossing

Dominika Zarzycka/ZUMA
Katarzyna Skiba

Since November 6, Polish truckers have blocked border crossing points with Ukraine, citing unfair advantages given to the Ukrainian market, and demanding greater support from the European Union.

With lines that now stretch for up to 40 kilometers (25 miles), thousands of Ukrainian truckers must now wait an average of about four days in ever colder weather to cross the border, sometimes with the help of the Polish police. At least two Ukrainian truck drivers have died while waiting for passage into Poland.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

The round-the-clock blockade is being manned by Polish trucking unions who claim that Ukrainian trucking companies, which offer a cheaper rate, have been transporting goods across Europe, rather than between Poland and Ukraine. Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion, Ukrainian truckers have been exempt from the permits once required to cross the border.

Now, Polish truckers are demanding that their government reintroduce entry permits for Ukrainian lorries, with exceptions for military and humanitarian aid from Europe. For the moment, those trucks are being let through the blockade, which currently affects four out of Ukraine’s eight border crossings with Poland.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest