Trabant Museum Prague Image of the front of a Trabant car

Trabant Museum Prague – Meet The Comedy Car Of Communism

Trabant Museum Prague

The Trabant Museum Prague is a small, quirky museum dedicated to the Trabant car which was the only car made in the Communist state of East Germany.  Join us as we take a trip back to the Cold War era to this tribute to the Trabi, which is one of the most comical cars you’ll ever see.

What Exactly Was A Trabant?

Image of the side of a Trabant car at the Trabant Museum Prague
Vorsprung durch Technik it was not – the Trabant

The Trabant was the only motor vehicle manufactured in the German Democratic Republic (GDR, abbreviated to DDR in German). It was made in the state-owned VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke in Zwickau between 1957 and 1990.

Demand for Trabants was very high, but delivery would usually take around a decade. You read that right – ten years. Supply never met demand because the material used for the body of the car – an East German invention called Duroplast – which took a very long time to harden sufficiently for production.

What Is There To See At The Trabant Museum Prague?

Image of a child standing next to a mural at the Trabant Museum Prague
Our Little Man’s first encounter with a Trabi

The Museum consists of a collection of Trabants through the decades, with different models put to a variety of purposes. A station wagon (with three doors as opposed to two) is hooked up to a Trabi trailer for a family picnic of holiday. Another Trabi is left in a repair workshop, half-finished as it was left by the mechanic. Another Trabant is converted to a Kubelwagen, the GDR equivalent of a jeep, complete with flag and military insignia.

Image of child sitting in the driving seat of a model Trabant car
Waiting ten years for this – talk about delayed gratification!

You can sit in one of the Trabants and watch a film in the windscreen while steering the wheel and operating the other levers on the dashboard, all the while hoping you don’t pull one of them out. Another Trabant is painted red with a yellow hammer-and-sickle as per the old Soviet Union flag, with a mural of the famous Brezhnev-Honecker Kiss on the East Side Gallery, part of the former Berlin Wall and one of the most popular Berlin landmarks.

There is also a sizeable collection of Trabants in the forecourt of the Museum, and a small shop selling a selection of toy Trabant cars, which my son loved. The only downside to this little Museum is that the captions are only in Czech, with very little information in English. That said, this is way off the beaten path for Prague, and I took a quick look through the guest book – nearly all the entries are in Czech, so not many non-Czech-speaking visitors know about it or make it there. It would cost them a lot of money to get everything translated for a fairly small number of visitors – luckily I know enough Czech to make enough sense of it to explain things to my Little Man.

There is also a small Trabant racetrack for the kids – though it took quite some time to get the cars moving, which we found very amusing.

What Else Was Different About The Trabant?

Image of the interior of a Trabantcar at the Trabant Museum Prague
Where’s the fuel gauge? Where’s the tachometer? Come to think of it, I didn’t see a petrol cap either…..

The GDR operated in straitened circumstances, with continual shortages in hard cash, foreign currency reserves and consumer goods. Some Western goods were imported and could only be paid for with foreign currency, but in many cases, the GDR tried to make its own alternative items, which included everything from clothing fabrics to cars.

The Trabant was very different to any contemporary Western counterparts.  It had no fuel gauge inside the vehicle, and no fuel cap on the outside – fuel had to be poured into a tank under the bonnet. This was just above the carburettor, making it a fire trap.

Trabants also had no indicator lights so the driver or passenger had to put their hand out of the window.

Why Have Trabants Become The Subject Of Ridicule?

The Trabant was not the most reliable of vehicles, and was incredibly basic – one of the epithets for it is a ‘sparkplug on wheels’.  They were very small, cramped and slow. There’s a video on YouTube where someone asks the presenter how long it would take to go from 0 to 60. He laughed. The car wouldn’t go that fast.

It was also a heavy polluter, with emissions so bad that prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall vehicle owners had to get special permission to drive them in the old West Germany when the first cracks began to appear in the iron Curtain. The carbon monoxide emissions were particularly bad, partly a result of using the outdated two-stroke engine – to put things in perspective, many west European manufacturers were switching to the more efficient four-stroke engines at the time the Trabant was first produced. So by the late 1980s, with the world on the cusp of enormous change, the Trabi was an ancient automotive relic.

For many, the Trabant was emblematic of the failings and backwardness of East German state, and Communism in general. The best the State-led economy could come up with in over forty years was this hapless plastic splutterbucket, so the Trabi has been on the end of many a joke. Examples include: How do you catch a Trabant? Leave some chewing gum on the road.

How Have Trabants Also Become Iconic?

The Trabi became a symbol of new-found freedom after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and this was largely down to footage of Trabants crossing the Bornholmer Strasse border point into West Berlin – this was the first place where the border / Wall was opened in Berlin. This event is commemorated by Birgit Kinder’s famous Trabant mural at the aforementioned East Side Gallery, a remnant of the Berlin Wall in Friedrichshain. 

Attitudes towards the Trabant changed by the mid-1990s. After German reunification in 1990, most East German products were discontinued and disappeared. Former citizens of the GDR began to miss some of these items which had been such an integral part of their lives – including the Trabant. This became known as Ostalgie, a nostalgia for things or aspects of life in the former GDR. The Trabant was reborn as a figure of fun, and used on tours around cities that were behind the Iron Curtain, including Prague.

Where Is The Trabant Museum Prague?

It’s in the western suburb of Motol, in Prague 5 district. Its address is Plzeňská 215B, and it’s easily reached by trams 9 or 10, both of which can be joined at the Anděl  stop in Smichov. The stop for the Museum is Hotel Golf, which is a request stop – so you’ll need to press the ‘Na znameni’ button to get the driver to stop.

Are There Any Other Trabant Museums in Germany?

Yes. The Trabi Museum in Berlin is just around the corner from Checkpoint Charlie. I haven’t visited it yet, but can tell you that they also run Trabi Safari tours in both Berlin and Dresden.

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David Angel
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing Europe for over 25 years.  His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times.