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Germany after the fall of the wall: Trabi revived as electric car

Shunned for Western cars after the Iron Curtain was lifted, the iconic car is back.

By Patti McCrackenCorrespondent / September 24, 2009

Old-model Trabant cars line up for an event in Germany.

Heinz-Peter Bader/Reuters

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A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

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It had a lawn mower engine and a Duroplast body made of plastic resin, paper, and cotton. The back windows didn’t roll down, it had no side mirrors, and blinkers and windshield wipers were optional.

You could jog around the block in the time it took the Trabant to get up to highway speed, but this little engine that couldn’t became the square icon of a generation of East Europeans trapped behind the Iron Curtain.

The Trabi is pushing for a comeback. A repackaged, retooled, and refined Trabi concept car will première this month at the Frankfurt Auto Show.

The last model tumbled off the assembly line in 1991. By that time, the Berlin Wall had completely crumbled, and East Europeans had forsaken the trusty Trabi (often abandoning them on the side of the road) for used Western cars.

Yet the cult following of the sputtering little classic picked up speed on the heels of flick “Goodbye Lenin,” a film that takes a nostalgic look back at growing up in East Germany.

Herpa, the German toy carmaker, has sold hundreds of thousands of toy models of the Trabi since the 1990s, one of the most successful scale model cars on the market.

Driven by the success and sentiment of the toy model, Herpa snapped up the trademark a few years ago. Together with German busmaker IndyKar and engineering firm IAV, along with designers from Volkswagen, they have created an ecological, economical, electric car.

This is not your father’s Trabant.

The old joke about the Trabant goes something like this: How many workers does it take to make a Trabi? Two. One to cut and one to paste.

Not so the new one. The new Trabi is designed with an electric engine, and operates on lithium batteries that can stay charged for 200 miles. It has solar panels on the roof, which provide the energy for air conditioning. And wipers and blinkers are standard.

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