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2-Stroke Time Travel

2-Stroke Time Travel

“OK, good, we’ve all found first gear”. We lead off out of the compound and pause as Tania, our guide checks we have a full complement in our troupe. Behind us a leopard, a giraffe, a zebra, a biege original coloured Trabant and one in shocking pink – we’re ready to set off on safari through the Trabi’s natural habitat of wild east Berlin.

The thought of offering self drive tours in the iconic former East German utility car came to student Rico Heinzig in 1997 when he was looking to stage a novel but inexpensive event. Enthusiasm for the idea encouraged him to set up regular tours first in Dresden and then later in Berlin. Those early days were rocky but then came the film ‘Goodbye Lenin’ and a surge of enthusiasm for things connected with the former GDR, including the notoriously long awaited for Trabants.

Ian and I are sitting knees drawn in, in the back of the lead car on a small, flat bench like seat, there’s nothing ergonomic about the interior design, not much padding and no rear passenger seat belts either. Peering over our driver’s shoulder the dash board looks wonderfully simple with nice bold coloured switches.

We bump off over the cobblestones and Tania gets going with the commentary. It’s transmitted by radio to the other cars, but I think the drivers are probably more intent on getting to grips with the gear shift control on the steering column, than sightseeing at this point. Immediately we pass one of the few remaining sections of the wall – this bit was preserved and now shelters the open air exhibition on the site of the former Gestapo and SS headquarters documenting the terrors of the Nazi regime. Then it’s on to Postdammer Platz, a wasteland in no-mans land during the cold war years. Getting a view of the top of the Sony building, part of the new glitzy complex here requires some serious ducking and neck twisting .

In quick succession we pass the Holocaust Memorial and the Brandenburg Gate before taking a spin around the Reischstag building crowned with its distinctive Norman Foster designed, glass cupola. The commentary comes with ironic observations and individual directions , “ahead of us now ……, for the zebra that’s to your left”. I ask Tania if they ever lose a Trabi, generally no, she says, but it can be a bit tricky at night with only the Trabis’ little, round headlights to spot them by.

Eastward we trundle, the drizzle we started out in now turned to rain. With four of us in the cramped cabin it’s steaming up, Ian’s busy wiping the windows and contorting himself to film the ride as we drive around Alexanderplatz and into Karl Marx Allee. This is the magic of a Trabi tour, here we are rattling along the stage built to show off Soviet might, where tanks rolled and soldiers paraded on May Day. Monumental tiled, apartment blocks line the dual lane avenue, Tania comments the architecture was disparagingly referred to as confectioners style due to all ceramic motifs that adorn the buildings.

A right turn and we leave the grandeur behind, it’s only one block deep. We’re heading for the East Side Gallery on the banks of the River Spree. The graffiti works inspired by the collapse of the wall are looking perky, freshened to mark the 20th anniversary of the event; the Trabi’s there immortalized in Birgit Kinder’s work showing a Trabant breaking through the wall.

Time’s flying by as our convoy makes its way back towards Zimmerstrasse past the Berliner Cathedral, the Opera House and through Gendarmenmarkt with it’s matching French and German Cathedrals. I look behind at our absurd little convoy beavering along amongst the glossy cars of today and smile. They’ve got character these little cars and they’re great fun.

For information about Trabi Safaris visit www.trabi-safari.de

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