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Trabi Safari

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the Trabant, that infamous East German "wundercar", has become a cult icon of the reunification of Germany, and of the new Berlin. The Trabant assembly line at VEB Sachsenring in Zwickau has long since shut down, and while they were once numerous, Trabants (or "Trabis", as they are affectionately called) are becoming more and more scarce on the streets of Berlin, and elsewhere. A combination of old age, lack of spare parts, stricter emission standards, and quite frankly, more efficient, modern vehicles has been the Trabant's harbinger of doom for many years. As such, they are not as common to find as they once were, making it harder for the self-admitted Trabi-addict to find and drive one.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the Trabant, that infamous East German “wundercar”, has become a cult icon of the reunification of Germany, and of the new Berlin. The Trabant assembly line at VEB Sachsenring in Zwickau has long since shut down, and while they were once numerous, Trabants (or “Trabis”, as they are affectionately called) are becoming more and more scarce on the streets of Berlin, and elsewhere. A combination of old age, lack of spare parts, stricter emission standards, and quite frankly, more efficient, modern vehicles has been the Trabant’s harbinger of doom for many years. As such, they are not as common to find as they once were, making it harder for the self-admitted Trabi-addict to find and drive one.

Face it, the Trabi isn’t for everyone. With no fuel gauge, no power steering, no power brakes, a two-stroke gas/oil engine and exhaust fumes that are the bane of environmentalists, the Trabant has a lot going against it. But, what they lack in modern conveniences (and meeting emission standards) they make up for in character. And man, do they have character.

Since my first trip to Berlin in May 2005, I have become fascinated (rather obviously, judging from my screen name) in not only the Trabant itself, but the myth and subculture that has grown around it. This car has a unique following and the mythos that surrounds it is quite unlike any other vehicle I know of. Since I saw my first Trabi parked on a Berlin street in Prenzlauer Berg, I knew I wanted to drive one. But what to do? I didn’t live in Berlin (but I would like to), I didn’t know anyone who lived there, let alone anyone who owned a Trabi, so how could I legally and without forcible entry, get behind the wheel of a Trabi?

Two years and five trips to Berlin later, I found the answer: the Trabi Safari. The Trabi Safari is a very unique sightseeing experience. It allows you climb into and drive a real live, sputtering, exhaust spewing Trabant. For 90 minutes, the car is yours to drive thorough the streets of Berlin. You can choose from one of two tour routes, but the better of the two, in my opinion, is the “Wild East” tour. This route covers the major sights of the former East Berlin, including Karl-Marx-Alle, the Nikolaiviertel, the East Side Gallery (formerly the Berlin Wall) the Berliner Dom, Unter den Linden, and the infamous Checkpoint Charlie.

The tours work like this: You can reserve a tour on-line (or by telephone), pick the Trabant you want to drive from their fleet, and spend a few minutes driving around the parking lot learning the unique (and rather frustrating) gear shifting arrangement. Normally, there is a small convoy of Tabis in the tour, with the tour guide in the lead car communicating by way of radio, explaining the sights and places you drive by. But on the day my girlfriend and I booked our Trabi Safari, we were the only people to book an English tour at the time, so our guide rode in the back seat, right in the car with us.

She was very helpful (and patient) getting me up to speed on driving in Berlin and learning to shift the gears of “Willy”, the 1987 Trabant 601 I drove that day. Taking the Trabi Safari is not only a great way to get behind the wheel of one of the most unique (if not most maligned) vehicles ever, but it offers a view of Berlin from a vastly different perspective than any other guided tour, or just walking around on your own, can possibly provide.
When you visit Berlin, the Trabi Safari should be near, if not at the top of your list. Your best bet is to book a tour in advance through their website (http://www.trabi-safari.de), where you can pick the Trabant you want to drive. Tours are available in both German and English. Viel Spaß!

written by trabantdeluxe

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