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The “Trabant”: the “VolksWagen” of the former German Democratic Republic Posted by on Jul 29, 2010 in Culture, History, Travel

Since Germany is known for its car industry, I am sure most of you have at least heard about brands like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, VW, Audi, Opel, Ford, and Porsche. But have you ever heard of a car called Trabant? If not, let me turn your gaze toward past times.

After the division of Germany, both East and West Germany made efforts to build a car that was affordable for a breite soziale Schicht (broad social stratum). While the Bundesrepublik (Federal Republic) was successful with the VW Käfer (VW Beetle) in the 1950s, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) had to face a Ressourcenmangel (lack of resources) and insufficient Produktionsstätte (production plants). Nevertheless, the Regierung (government) of the GDR wanted to compete with the economy of the West. Thus, in 1954, the Politbüro (Politburo) commissioned to manufacture an preiswertes Auto (inexpensive car) for the people in East Germany.

The Trabant or “Trabi” was manufactured in Zwickau at the VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke. Between 1957 and 1991 the company produced 3,051,385 cars. Many of them were exported to Tschechoslowakei (Czechoslovakia), Polen (Poland) and Ungarn (Hungary).

In the beginning, the Trabant was celebrated as the East German “Volkswagen”. But later the car became the symbol of a stagnierende Wirtschaft (stagnant economy). The wirtschaftlichen Rahmenbedingungen (economic conditions) and the lack of resources in the GDR did not allow any technological developments of the car. The government controlled the economy and fixed a price of 4,000 DDR Marks (equivalent to 400 Euros) per car as well as an annual production capacity of no more than 120,000 vehicles. A free price system did not exist. Consequently, finding a balance between Angebot und Nachfrage (supply and demand) was out of the question.

This economic circumstance affected the lives of consumers. Buying a car was not as easy as today. Firstly, every person had to order a car, which was followed by a very long Wartezeit (waiting period) of 12,5 years to 15 years. Because of such a long wait, many young people went, immediately after their 18th birthday, to a VEB Vertriebsfiliale (sales office) to order a car.

Meanwhile, the Trabant has reached cult status and caught the eyes of enthusiasts of car tuning.


And here is a commercial, so that you can get a vivid idea of this car.

(die) breite soziale Schicht – broad social stratum

(die) Bundesrepublik – Federal Republic

(der) VW Käfer – VW Beetle

(der) Ressourcenmangel – lack of resources

(die) Produktionsstätte – production plant

(die) Regierung – government

(das) Politbüro – Politburo

(das) preiswerte Auto – inexpensive car

die Tschechoslowakei – Czechoslovakia

Polen – Poland

Ungarn – Hungary

(die) stagnierende Wirtschaft – stagnant economy

(die) wirtschaftliche Rahmenbedingungen – economic conditions

Angebot und Nachfrage – supply and demand

(die) Wartezeit – waiting period

(die) Vertriebsfiliale – sales office

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About the Author:Sandra Rösner

Hello everybody! I studied English and American Studies, Communication Science, and Political Science at the University of Greifswald. Since I have been learning English as a second language myself for almost 20 years now I know how difficult it is to learn a language other than your native one. Thus, I am always willing to keep my explanations about German grammar comprehensible and short. Further, I am inclined to encourage you to speak German in every situation. Regards, Sandra


  1. schwein hundert:

    I finally saw my first trabi in person while biking in germany last year. It pulled up next to me at a stop light and I smiled and tapped it, “plastisch?”
    Ja! he said and smiled.

  2. luca traian:

    am o masina Trabant 601/1990 in stare de functionare,si am aflat ca se produc masini noi as dori una la schimb, sau piese de schimb noi.

    • sanroesner:

      @luca traian Hi everybody, I just want to say that your feedback is always welcome. Thank you. But I kindly ask you to write in English or German. I am sorry Luca but I don’t speak Spanish (?), Italian (?), Portuguese (?) 😉


      • Eman:

        @sanroesner Romanian. He’s saying he has that model# Trabant, and that he heard they make new Trabant and he’d like info on how to get (new? !) parts for his old Trabant

  3. Pat:

    Finally drove one last Saturday – very cool! But not too fast! It’s a neat cult car, but a sad statement about conditions back then.

  4. used cars haddington:

    Pretty element of content. I simply stumbled upon your weblog and in accession capital to say that I get actually enjoyed account your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing in your augment or even I success you get entry to constantly quickly.

  5. George:

    Hello, Sandra, as far as I see, you didn’t guess: Luca’s native language is: Romanian. He wrote that he owns a Trabant made in 1990, still in operation and he heard that new Trabants are made(maybe he heard about the Trabant with VW Polo engine) and he wants to exchange his car for a new car or for new spare parts…Anyway, I also had a “Trabi” made in 1980. I spent time for the complete restauration of this car and now I regret that I had to sell it…but, God knows, maybe I’ll buy and restore another one, as i miss it…

  6. Todd Chartraw:

    I’m commenting to make you be aware of what a excellent discovery my cousin’s girl found going through your blog. She mastered many pieces, which include how it is like to possess an awesome helping mindset to have others clearly have an understanding of specified tortuous issues. You actually exceeded our expected results. Many thanks for presenting the necessary, trusted, revealing and as well as fun tips on your topic to Mary.

  7. Lucas Kohler:

    “Since Germany is known for its car industry, I am sure most of you have at least heard about brands like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, VW, Audi, Opel, Ford, and Porsche. ”

    If you knew anything about cars, you would know that Ford is about as American as it gets.