The Great Trabi Adventure: Navigating Berlin in East Germany’s Iconic Car


Ah, Berlin! The city of rich history, vibrant culture and … Trabis. Yes, the Trabant—East Germany’s iconic little car that, against all odds, still buzzes around the streets of Berlin, Germany.

Prior to my trip to Berlin, I didn’t know that an experience to drive a Trabi is available as an experience to the public. And if you want to make your trip to Berlin extra memorable, booking a Trabi Safari drive is not an option but a must.

The Trabi Introduction: A Blast from the Past

If the Volkswagen Beetle is the icon of West Germany, then the Trabant is the equivalent of East Germany. The Trabant, affectionately known as the Trabi, was East Germany’s answer to the Western automobile craze. But unlike the Beetle, the Trabi crafted from Duroplast – a plastic reinforced with recycled materials, boasting a 26-horsepower engine. But boy, does it have character!

The Trabi Safari is a guided tour that lets you explore Berlin in one of these nostalgic East German cars. When I arrived at the Trabi Safari headquarters, I was greeted by a kaleidoscope of quirky Trabis of varying hues and prints, each more charmingly decked out than the other.

Before the adventure began, I had to sign my life away (a release stating that I would be responsible for up to 600 Euros worth of damages to the vehicle) and then make my selection between an electric Trabi and a manual-drive one. Call me chicken but I opted for the safe choice of an electric Trabi. For one, I come from a country where cars are right-hand drive while it’s left-hand drive in Germany. Two, the Trabis come with a column-mounted gear shift lever and the gears can be stiff due to the age of the cars. I decided to have one less thing to worry about and simply concentrate on staying alive.

For those who chose to drive the manual Trabi, they were given a crash course of how to shift the gears in a Trabant at an area where dummy gears were set up to simulate the Trabant gear lever. After a quick briefing and a few tips, we were ready to hit the road in a convoy.

Starting the Beast, Or, Trying To

My chariot for the day was a greyish blue baby with a roof and interior that had clearly seen one too many Berlin winters. Turning the ignition was easy. My Trabi’s engine roared, or rather, sputtered to life with the sound of an asthmatic lawnmower.

Our guide led the convoy in an E-Force One car and he was providing commentary through a radio system that connected all the cars in the convoy. Unfortunately, the radio system in my Trabi produced static noise so loud that I had to switch off the radio system.

Driving a Trabi requires a certain finesse, even an electric one. Think of it as like driving a buggy but having to steer with Herculean strength. I was also trying to get used to a left-hand drive car and having to look out for traffic and cyclists in a direction I was not familiar with. Do I look left? Or do I look right?

But after a few minutes of coaxing my Trabi onto the streets of Berlin, I started to relax in my seat and could soak in the sights of the city.

The Open Road: Trabi Style

Now, Berlin is a city where modern meets historical at every turn. And nothing bridges this gap quite like driving a relic from the Cold War past amidst sleek BMWs and Mercedes. As we puttered along the streets of Berlin, heads would turn. I wanted to wave back to the people like I’m royalty but I had to keep both my hands with all my might on the steering wheel to control the car.

We passed by Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Unter den Linden, Oberbaumbrucke, Rotes Rathaus and parts of the Berlin Wall. The Trabi had no power steering, so every turn felt like a mini workout. By the time we reached East Side Gallery for a five-minute stop, I felt like I’d done a full session at the gym. During the stopover, our guide lifted the hood of one of the Trabis to show us the engine of the car. He also regaled us with stories of East Germany, where owning a Trabi was a 15-year waiting game back then. The East Germans would actually place an order for a Trabant the moment they had a baby so that by the time the Trabant arrived, their kid would be of age to drive the car!

Wrapping Up: The Trabi Legacy

Returning the Trabi to the Trabi Safari lot was bittersweet. Despite her quirks and the occasional heart-stopping moment, my Trabi for the day had taken me on an unforgettable journey through time and space (well, Berlin space, at least). Driving a Trabi isn’t just about getting from point A to point B; it’s about the experience, the laughs and the memories.

So, if you find yourself in Berlin and want to add a dash of adventure to your trip, hop in a Trabi. You might not break any speed records, but you’ll definitely have a tale to tell. Just make sure you live to tell the tale.

Visit the Trabi Safari website for details on booking an experience. 


About Author

Katherine Goh is the managing editor and co-founder of Asia 361. On days when she is not writing, she spends her time dreaming of becoming a travel photographer. For editorial matters, she can be reached at email: [email protected].

Leave A Reply

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.