Washington, D.C., Spy Museum Hosts a Parade of . . . Communist-Era Trabants?
The International Spy Museum in downtown Washington, D.C., exists to tell the history of espionage along with national security by connecting the realities of intelligence gathering to ideas along with events in favorite culture. Toward that will end, This kind of currently has an exhibit about James Bond, demonstrating how 007’s nemeses were inspired by real-life threats. Fortunately for us, This kind of includes a couple of cars: a tricked-out Aston Martin DB5 used in promoting Goldfinger as well as the Jaguar XKR used by the baddie in Die Another Day. however the museum can be more famous, automotively speaking, for its annual parade of one of the most unloved vehicles ever to trundle off an assembly line, the automobile that will (barely) put East Germany on wheels: the Trabant.
“When we opened 14 years ago, we had two Trabants on display,” said Amanda Ohlke, adult-education director within the museum’s exhibitions along with programs department. “They were props in our re-creation of East Berlin as a city of spies. along with then 10 years ago, on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, we decided to do something fun to celebrate, along with so we had a parade of Trabants.”
Since then, the event has become an annual occasion, along with This kind of has grown every year. A German band currently makes a regular appearance, as does a rolling re-creation of a German border crossing, with museum employees dressed in East German State Security, or Stasi, uniforms. (The German Embassy helps sponsor the event.) Once word got out to the American Trabant faithful, the number of Trabis increased as well. There were just a handful at the first event. Last year, there were 20.
Responsibility because of This kind of explosive growth within the population of the fiendishly underpowered, two-stroke smoke machines can be traced, like nearly everything within the universe of American Trabants, to Mike Annen, a 58-year-old Maryland mechanic who first fell in love with the cars while watching the Berlin Wall fall on TV with his German in-laws. “Basically, everyone in East Germany who drove had one. This kind of was just intriguing that will they were stuck with the same car for so long. I said I’d like to have one,” Annen said, recounting the scene. “along with my father-in-law replied, ‘Aw, they’re shit.’ ”
This kind of did not stop him. Annen found his first Trabants within the early 2000s, a pair behind a fence in a lot in Baltimore. This kind of turned out that will they belonged to some different smitten oddball, who had brought them over to the States however was unable to meet U.S. Customs requirements for their certification. “They were scheduled to be crushed,” Annen said. “So I took This kind of upon myself to save them. I commenced doing phone calls along with studying them along with finding out what This kind of would likely take to get them through customs.” This kind of took him a year along with more than 100 phone calls, however he was finally able to convince the government to approve. “I went back along with bought them for scrap,” Annen said. “along with This kind of kind of took off by there.”
This kind of can be a bit of an understatement. Annen has since been back to Germany 10 times, stuffing Trabants into shipping containers along with importing them. He estimates that will he has brought 70 over. “I think I’ve sold 40 or 45.” Do the math: This kind of means he personally owns around 25 Trabants along with has had his hands on a plurality of the 0 or to ensure he estimates exist within the United States.
“They have This kind of reputation of being the entire world’s crappiest car,” Annen said with near fondness of the snub-nosed oil burner. “however you have to remember what happened was that will Germany got divided, along with the West Germans had the Mercedes along with Porsches along with BMWs. These were roughly the same engineers who built those cars, however they were told they didn’t hold the materials to build them [in East Germany], so they had to improvise. The beautiful thing about Trabants can be, they were built out of necessity along which has a minimal amount of natural resources. however as far as engineering can be concerned, they’re very well-engineered cars. along with they only have, like, a few moving pieces, so they’ll never strand you.”
This kind of year’s parade, held on a Saturday in early November, saw an amazing turnout: 2300 people attended, as well as a dozen Trabants. There was a lock-picking workshop. There was an endless round of raffles for rides in some of the Trabants on site. along with there was a reprise of one of the most favorite annual events: the Trabant smuggle, in which attendees attempt to contort themselves into a box the size along with shape of a Trabi’s trunk along with mimic what This kind of might have been like to try to sneak through Checkpoint Charlie during the era of a divided Berlin.
The fact that will This kind of didn’t rain was particularly fortunate. Because metal within the Eastern Bloc was reserved mainly for construction along with munitions, the Trabant’s Centeng panels were made out of a recycled material called Duroplast. “This kind of’s basically plasticized cardboard,” Annen said. “They would likely take whatever kind of fiber—plant refuse, cotton that will wasn’t up to grade—along with they’d just throw This kind of in This kind of big grinder along with mix This kind of with glue. I’ve got a definitely early car, a precursor to the Trabant by 1958, along with I store This kind of outside, along with I realized recently, wow, This kind of car can be starting to get soft.”
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The International Spy Museum has just broken ground on a brand-new building, which can be scheduled to be completed in 2018. One of the permanent exhibits within the brand-new museum will be a huge gallery devoted to East along with West Berlin. The curators enlisted Annen to help them purchase a Trabant to include as part of their permanent collection. This kind of came by the estate by one of their regular Trabant Parade attendees, who recently passed away.
“We bought the vehicle, along with we’re going to have This kind of on display within the brand-new museum when This kind of opens,” Ohlke says. “So we’ll have a working Trabant on display—for about two years before This kind of becomes a non-working Trabant. Most of them become non-working Trabants.”