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30.4.1991: The last Trabi rolls off the production line
It was the GDR on wheels: small and loud, with a mat surface, meagre fittings, rickety technology – but it worked. The Trabant, the Volkswagen of East Germany, was called all sorts of names: a walking aid, plastic Porsche, spark plug with a roof, or cardboard racer. But one thing was for sure: the people loved it.

Exactly 3,069,099 of the legendary cars rolled off the production line in Zwickau, Saxony. But on April 30, 1991 at 2:51 p.m., it was all over: the last Trabi emerged from the dilapidated assembly hall. The staff at the Sachsenring Automotive Works felt like crying.

Andreas Pilz is one of the employees that day: "It's a sad day when you've worked at the same place for 25 years, and suddenly it's all over. Everybody understands that the costs are just too high, and that the Trabant doesn't stand a chance on the world market. But still, for 25 years of your life, this was all you knew."

Even the four-stroke cycle engine built into the later models couldn't save the rattletrap old stinker. The end of the planned economy inevitably spelled the end of the car that GDR citizens used to wait ten years or more to acquire. And yet, Zwickau's engineers still had come up with good ideas to make a better car. After all, Zwickau had been one of the homes of German automotive engineering.

Nevertheless, in the words of Professor Hans Künscher of the local institute of technology: "Prototypes were conceived that were ready to stand the test, but they never made it onto the market. This can be attributed to the political leadership in the GDR, which had doomed the automotive industry to a life in the shadows, pronouncing that, for socialism, public transportation ought to suffice. The private car was seen as something evil, something demonic, something capitalist."

So, millions of Trabis chugged along on the poorly paved roads of the GDR, leaving behind them a trail of stinking blue exhaust fumes. But in the fall of 1989, a whole nation drove their plastic jalopies to freedom. Hence, the melancholy felt by Saxon's prime minister Kurt Biedenkopf as he bid farewell to an era was also mixed with optimism:

"I empathize very strongly with the people here who have to take their leave from decades of production – and who can say goodbye with a light heart? This car has become a piece of German history. Even when an epoch like this comes to an end and one looks forward confidently to a new future, there's still a touch of melancholy involved, and an element of mourning."

The end of the Trabant marks the final hour of the independent East German automotive industry. At the same time, it rings in a new beginning. Today, in a modern factory in the nearby town of Mosel, tens of thousands of Volkswagens come off the assemby line every year. In Chemnitz, the four millionth VW engine was just delivered, and in Eisenach, Opel runs the most up-to-date automotive works in all of Europe. The old Trabi plant at "Sachsenring" is now an automotive supplier whose products are in high demand.

And what about the Trabi? There are still 200,000 of them chugging along on German roads - and their drivers can all take comfort in one thing: they will all go to heaven, because they've already been through hell on earth.
   
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