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(first manufactured 1955)

The box‐like Trabant car was a potent symbol of East German values in the years immediately following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and was celebrated on the record (rather than CD) cover of Achtung Baby by the Irish pop band U2. After the end of the Second World War when Germany was divided, many existing factories were taken over by the Soviets. Amongst them was the Horch Factory in Zwickau, a manufacturer of luxury cars. However, the first two models were mass produced under the IFA brand—the F8 and the F9, two‐stroke cars based on pre‐war DKW (Das Kleine Wunder—The Small Wonder) projects. The factory's former luxury car expertise was not entirely discarded, as there was also limited production of the Sachsenring P‐240 and a car for presidential parades, the Repraesentant P‐240. The F8 was a classic East German family car, with the F9 an updated version. In 1953 the latter was transferred from Zwickau to Eisenach where Wartburg cars were later produced. Not long after this the Swickau brand name was changed to AWZ and the AWZ P70 launched in 1955. This established what were to become the hallmarks of the Trabant: a fibreglass body and a two‐cylinder, two‐stroke engine. First seen at the Leipzig Fair in 1955 it provided cheap, basic family transport powered by a small engine and was in production until 1959, reaching sales of around 30,000. The P50 was initiated in 1957, building on the AWZ P70 idea, and was the first car to carry the Trabant name. The meaning of the word ‘Trabant’ included notions of ‘servant’ or ‘comrade’, ideas which were literally realized in the archetypal P601 launched in 1964. The latter was the model that became famous, remaining in production for almost 30 years with comparatively few modifications. Its fibreglass bodywork had a simple box‐like appearance, a visual metaphor for the basic technology that underpinned it. More powerful than its P50 predecessor it was available in saloon and cabriolet versions as well as a Kombi station wagon. A jeep‐like model, the Kubelwagon, was developed for the army and another version, the Tramp, for civilian use. As was the case in other industrial contexts in the Eastern bloc, designers at the AWZ factory had many ideas for other models that were never realized for economic reasons. These included a prototype for an updated ‘people's car’, the Trabant 603 with a Wankel engine; further unrealized attempts to update the Trabant took place in 1979 and 1982 with the P610 powered by an 1100 cc engine. However, following the fall of the Berlin Wall the place of the previously ubiquitous yet basic Trabant, a powerful icon of the former East Germany, was challenged by the widespread availability and attraction of cheap, but style‐conscious and symbolically ‘democratic’, second‐hand Western alternatives such as the Volkswagen Golf. The competitive nature of the market place rang the death knell for the Trabant, leading to the closure of the Swickau factory for car production.

Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.

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