Who wouldn’t want to cruise around Berlin driving a 1960’s East German Trabant? Traveling with two young adults in their 20’s often pushes me outside of my comfort zone and honestly, the Trabant is a car with no claim to comfort. We tend to waffle between seeing the great sites of a destination like the Brandenburg gate or The Berlin Wall and lounging around cafés near our hotel just people watching. We decided it was time to spice up our trip to Berlin with a truly unique tour. Trabi Safari offers escorted tours through former East Berlin and a chance to drive a vintage Trabi. Count us in!
The Trabant, nicknamed “Trabi”was manufactured in East Germany between 1957 and 1991. These smoky, two-stroke engine cars were in such demand that East Germans waited up to ten years to get one. Party officials and celebrities usually managed to jump the line, but for an average citizen, owning Trabi was a sign of prestige. They took meticulous care of them, so they could last for years and many remain today. At 18 horse power the Trabis top out at 62 miles per hour and are often missing conveniences like turn signals and gas gauges. These details make for a crazy driving experience, so we screwed up our courage when we signed up for the tour.
Trabi Safari is located just steps from Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall. We showed up a bit early which was not necessary as the tour took quite a while to get organized. The Trabis aren’t always cooperative so selecting 8 to 10 of these little beauties that run at the same time can be a challenge.
In time we were escorted out to the Trabi yard where we could choose our car. We selected a pea green sedan but could have upgraded to a convertible or one of the crazy Trabis painted as giraffes, tigers, or the pink panther. Our guide walked us through a crash (pun intended!)course in Trabi operations. The little cars have a two-stroke engine and are basically like driving a riding lawnmower. …… through the streets of Berlin! A guide leads the tour and another follows behind offering instructions and commentary through a radio. We were off.
The tour includes sites like Soviet era apartment buildings, the Berlin Wall and various communist party headquarters. What with the frequent stalls and lack of braking ability, driving the car demands the bulk of your attention. Don’t expect perfect photo ops or an in depth history lesson. One of the high points of our tour was a stop at the gas station to refuel the Trabis. After some intense maneuvering we managed to line up 10 Trabis at the pumps and were soon gassed up and ready to roll on. We were often the object of pointing, laughing and photo taking from pedestrians on the sidewalks. We ended up loving this quirky tour, laughing through East Berlin on Trabi Safari.
We had wrestled with their online reservation system. So I sent them an email begging for a chance to take their tour. Keep at it. It’s worth it.
Don’t stress too much about the actual driving. If you can drive a manual transmission, you’ll be fine. You don’t need for an International Driver’s license, just a sense of humor.