Photo by: Elizabeth Suckow
There have been some pretty strange German things that I have noticed since moving here. Curry ketchup is one of them; it’s the only kind of ketchup I’ve ever requested on fries in my life. Hefe beers are another; who knows how I survived so long in California, the land of IPAs (bleh). There’s also one non-food item that I have to think of when I think of Germany, and especially Berlin: the Trabi. A semi-affectionate name given to the Trabant, even the word ‘Trabi’ has the ability to take some people right back to Germany before the wall fell. This frankly matchbox sized car is the subject of much nostalgia and quite a bit of joking, especially with former owners of the spunky soviet car. This reflection on Trabi’s for me inspired something, though. Having never owned one, I decided to do a bit of research. Luckily Google brought me the classic 1991 film Go Trabi Go. Go Trabi Go was one of the first films made in Germany after reunification, and follows a family (the Struutz’) on a Goethe (yes the philosopher) inspired roadtrip in their Trabi (that is at least 20 years old) from their home in Bitterfeld to Naples. Yes that Naples. The one in Italy. It is a genuinely enjoyable movie to watch, and I wholeheartedly recommend checking it out. But seeing how this is technically a Germany travel blog, and not necessarily a Germany culture tchotchke survey (like it has been for the past couple weeks) I figure I’d try my hand at crafting a roadtrip guide based off of Go Trabi Go. So here it goes. Here’s my version of a Go Trabi Go Trip!
Go Trabi Go Trip: Get to Know A Trabi!
A little background: the Trabant was the only car produced in East Germany, and this made it the fastest and most readily available car to most East Germans when it was first released in 1958. Further more, the production methods and designs for this crazy little car hardly changed at all over the car’s nearly 30 year lifespan. But, as you might notice, 1958 was a while ago; to put it nicely the Trabant did not age well. This made Trabi’s and their two cylinder engines look like toy cars next to the gas guzzling sedans of the 70s. By the 80s, Trabis were something of a joke, as they were mostly famous for falling apart really well, going slower than anyone in a car ever needed to go, and belching an oily smoke at any sign of effort by the engine. They also became a sign of the inefficacy of the East German government; production shortages often meant month or even year long waiting lists for parts and new cars. And yet, Trabi’s still have their little tires hooked into the hearts of some Germans. However, to their benefit, as seen in Go Trabi Go, the car is insanely easy to put together again, and seems to have the suspension of a monster truck. Also the Franken-Trabi they end up with in the end looks pretty sweet.
And now to begin the roadtrip! Firstly, I want to say I do not recommend finding a Trabi to take you on this journey. No offense to any Trabi die-hards out there, but they really are unreliable vehicles, especially today. Secondly, I’m not even going to provide direct map directions here. As I don’t even know how to drive in my native California I think it would be irresponsible to dole out driving instructions in a foreign country. For the sake of this article, and everyone on the roads, I’m just going to provide links to bus lines that run between these three cities. Also thirdly, if you’ve seen the film you will realize that the story follows the Struutz family from Bitterfeld to Naples, but I’m only going to guide you through the German portion of their trip from Leipzig to Munich.
Photo by: János Rusiczki
Go Trabi Go Trip: Leipzig →Nuremberg
What the Struutz’ did in Leipzig:
- Stayed: Well, they kinda live here, in the nearby town called Bitterfeld
- For fun: Well… They left to start their great Go Trabi Go journey…
What you should do:
- Stay: For the budget crowd, the Say Cheese is a fun, cheeky hostle in the city center that is clean, cozy and modern. And for those of you who can enjoy the better things in life, one of Leipzig’s nicest five-star hotels is the Steigenberger Grandhotel Handelshof.
- For Fun: Take a stroll through the city center and enjoy the marvelous 16th century architecture that survived in this majestic city through the Second World War. It’s also worth mentioning that Bach, Wagner and Goethe himself all lived, studied and worked in this city at some time in their lives, so many museums, monuments and exhibitions can be found dedicated to these great minds. If you’re a fan of literature, you can visit the setting of a scene from Goethe’s Faust, and if you’re crazy for classical music, the church where Johann Sebastian Bach worked as Cantor still stands in the city center.
After a few days soaking in the greatest of German culture, head south to Nuremberg.
What the Struutz’ did in Nuremberg:
- Stayed: With their annoying (not to mention racist) relatives in a creepy trailer in the relative’s backyard
- For Fun: Tried not to punch said annoying (racist) relatives or piss off the gigantic dog who lived in said creepy trailer
What you should do:
- Stay: Hostel goers should check out Arthotel for a great value and location, while Le Méridien Grand Hotel provides an amazing five star experience. And feel good in the fact that no matter where you stay, you’ll probably be doing better than the Struutz clan.
- For Fun: Nuremberg is a city with a lot of history, like a lot of German cities. While you’re here you can enjoy the castle towers scattered around the city, and see the location of the Nuremberg trials of World War II. There are also some great museums to check out in this small city, including one dedicated to toys.
Once you’ve enjoyed a bit of a history lesson and a view, head even further south to Munich.
Go Trabi Go Trip: Nuremberg → Munich
So the Struutz family was lucky enough to have their Trabi towed for this part of the trip, by a jovial truck driver who really never stopped laughing. Highlights of this amazing scene include this fantastic Trabi joke:
-How do you double the value of a Trabi?
-Fill it with petrol
Too bad we didn’t get to hear the other 117 Trabi jokes that driver had up his sleeve!
What the Struutz’ did in Munich:
- Stayed: In their Trabi (yes, three grown adults slept in a miniture sized four-seater overnight) unknowingly on a nude beach (which I might mention has the fittest bathers in the world. Seriously, I thought nude beaches were all over-fifty-and-you-should-have-pants-on kind of places. Well done for proving me wrong, Munich!)
- For Fun: Go shopping! The ladies head to the mall to shop for bathing suits to begin their Italian portion of the trip, while the father heads to the scrap yard to find a new bumper for their poor Trabi they call ‘Georgie.’
What you should do:
- Stay: While I couldn’t find any rooms near nude beaches, the Wombats City Hostel in Munich provides a comfortable, hip atmosphere that the Wombat hostels are known for. If you’re into living it up, head to the München Palace for a charming stay you’ll not soon forget.
- For Fun: Munich is definitely a great city for shopping, so if you’re inclined to follow the Struutz’ lead, Neuhauserstraße and Kaufinger Straße are famous for their offerings. But Munich has more to offer you than a lighter wallet. It is easily known as one of the most beautiful cities in Germany. Take a lovely stroll through the English Gardens, or if you’re lucky enough to visit in late September remember that little thing called Oktoberfest? Well it was invented here (more info about this traditional festival can be found here at our previous post on Munich’s Oktoberfest)!
And who knows, maybe by the time you get to Munich you’ll also have the road-tripping bug under your skin and head even farther south to Italy just like the Struutz family did in Go Trabi Go.
But hey, that’s a whole other blog, isn’t it?