Trabitour of Leipzig – Travel Back in Time in a Cardboard Racer
Any visit to a former East German city will take you into the past – but a Trabitour will drive you straight into it in a fog of nostalgia and fumes. Our quirky Trabi Safari of Leipzig transported us back into a time before German reunification, as well as turning us into something of a wheeled spectacle. In this sponsored post for Leipzig Tourism we introduce you to the famous “cardboard racer” of the GDR…
Cool Leipzig – or should that be Hypezig
How do you create a modern city that appeals to young and old, while remaining true to your history? Leipzig does this better than most. This Saxony city has the fastest growing city population in Germany and is attracting many young people who are finding other German cities too expensive – in fact it’s so hipster cool that The Guardian called it the better Berlin. In 2013 it was ranked in a study by Marktforschungsinstituts GfK as the most liveable city in Germany and in 2017 it was ranked first of all large cities due to its aesthetics, food and shopping. It has also been labelled Hypezig for it meteoric rise and popularity with the media.
Authentic reinvention of a city
Parts of the city are undeniably new and shiny and there’s talk of Michelin stars and high end hotel chains appearing as if from nowhere. But what Leipzig does best is reinvent its authentic self. Everywhere you go there’s a modern take on the old or an old angle to the new; the politics and culture of the Eastern Bloc have left their mark while the city updates itself by restoring warehouse districts and reinvigorating open quarries. Perhaps this is best summed up by an afternoon on a Trabitour in a city where Porsche is also made.
Welcome to your Trabitour of Liepzig
“Come on please sit in. You have the clutch, the brake and the gas. It’s like every other normal car.”
Stefan Seidel from Trabi Erleben helps me into the small space of the driving seat and briefs me on what to expect.
“It’s a little bit louder and you will feel the road. It’s like a go kart with a roof. It’s a lot of fun to drive this car, it’s like nothing else.”
A city tour where the car’s the star
He’s right about it being like nothing else. The star of any Trabitour is the Trabant, known fondly as the Trabi, a little car produced from 1957 to 1990 that became a symbol of East Germany. It’s something of a challenge to drive, especially when you can’t quite get it into gear in the rush hour traffic. But a Trabi safari is one of those holiday experiences you’ll never forget. We still remember our midwinter Trabi tour of Berlin, when the temperature was minus ten degrees and we had to scrape snow off the windscreen. Back then we drove a Trabi in military green.
A Leipzig tour driving back in time
Today it’s hot; and Stuart jokes that we have air conditioning – a small portable fan on the back shelf that looks like it came from Poundland. But you don’t do Trabi for luxury; you do it to go back in time and have a unique experience. Although that’s not to say this wasn’t a luxury before German unification.
People could wait up to eighteen years to get a family car and it cost on average a year’s salary. They often registered for one when their children were born in the hope it would be ready by the time they were adults. Our Trabitour guide Anna-Sylvia Goldammer says their car was all the more precious for the wait, even if it wasn’t exactly unique.
“The colour of this car is papyrus. There were two or three colours but this was the one people could afford.”
Driving an authentic Trabi stinker
Near the start of our tour of the city we pull up at a disused drive-in cinema in the area of the old trade fair. Stuart gets out to take some shots of the antique looking car in the industrial wasteland.
“Be careful, the seat’s coming off,” laughs Anna as he gets out.
I take the controls, managing to tentatively drive around in circles. Anna warns me against this.
“You never want to be behind a Trabi because they stink.”
A drive full of memories
As we drive through Leipzig, Anna tells us many stories of growing up in East Germany.
“One of my classic childhood memories was there was a shortage of everything in the 80’s. You had to know who you needed to know and then you had a chance. You’d find things under the counter. We called the relationship vitamin B; one of camaraderie and connection.” Anna was 15 when the country was unified. “I feel lucky enough to be able to remember it, not that I want it back. I was old enough to understand but young enough to make the most of the new possibilities.”
Although she feels many good things came out of the reunification of East and West Germany she does feel a slight nostalgia for some aspects of society before the join.
“Thirty years on, and apart from the horrible ideology, I feel we have lost something too. For example text books. If you had the job of making them you could really focus on that, many people survived because they found their niche in society and then they did a really good job which produced a better quality in some things like books. Also education was more accurate. People don’t really know how to write any longer.”
Check out our video of the tour to see what it’s like to drive a Trabi and find out why it was known as the cardboard racer.
Trabitour through history
Anna briefs Stuart to watch out for the cyclists as he goes straight through the double M; a symbol of the trade fair and an icon in the city.
“Now we have the new trade fair, north of the city centre.”
A bit further on, she points to the ampelmann symbol on the pedestrian crossing.
“The traffic light on that side is the East German version. It’s much prettier than the West German one. In the 1990s they all disappeared and some East Germans said ‘What happened to them?’ Now there is a new female version.”
In South West Leipzig Anna shows us rows of original buildings and elegant architecture.
“Around 1900 this was a rich German city. We have whole neighbourhoods where not a single bomb destroyed the area in the war.”
We stop at the Monument to the Battle of the Nations, a 91 metre memorial commemorating Napoleon’s defeat at Leipzig, which helped end the War of the Sixth Coalition. “It’s only the outer shell that is made from the national stone. Inside you have a lot of concrete,” Anna says, pointing to the Trabi, looking tiny and insignificant next to the memorial, You have this kind of plastic cardboard, and then you have the concrete inside the building. I see a parallel.”
Touring Leipzig in a Trabi gives you a chance to experience GDR nostalgia with a modern twist, while showing you the city for an hour or two.
We took our Trabi tour with Trabi Erleben. You can hire a guide and get out on your own personal Trabitour of the city like we did or you can join a Trabi safari where a convoy of cars is led by a guide who briefs you from the front car through a comms system. Tours run Fridays at 14.00, Saturdays at 11.00 and 14.00 or Sundays at 11.00 and 14.00. They last around an hour and a half. Call +49 (0) 341/14 09 09-22 or e-mail at least three days before your tour.
Prices depend on how many of you there are. At time of writing:
- 2 people per Trabi = 40.00 EUR per person
- 3 people per Trabi = 35.00 EUR per person
- 4 people per Trabi = 28.00 EUR per person
- plus 20,00 EUR per Trabi to cover fuel etc.
- Check with Trabi Erleben for latest prices
Disclosure Note: This post is a paid collaboration with Leipzig Tourism and Captivate. All words, opinion, photography, videography, biking and Trabi driving was all our own.