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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 February 2007, 13:00 GMT
Old Trabants still chugging along
By Petru Clej
BBC News

Trabant cars in East Germany
In East Germany the ubiquitous Trabant ran on cheap, dirty fuel
It was East Germany's answer to the Volkswagen: cheap, agonisingly slow and notoriously unreliable.

The Trabant can still be seen on Germany's roads - a stubborn survivor of the defunct communist regime.

Trabi fans are preparing to mark the 50th birthday of a car that inspired numerous jokes.

It belches out fumes that breach anti-pollution regulations - but Germany has made an exception for it as no more have been produced since 1991.

The Zwickau plant churned out some three million Trabants, made of plasticised cotton waste, called Duroplast.

How do you double the value of a Trabant? Fill up its petrol tank
Why doesn't a Trabant have seat belts? It might be mistaken for a rucksack
Why does the Trabi have a heated rear window? It keeps your hands warm while you push it

The first car rolled off the production line on 7 November 1957 - the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, which the GDR celebrated with its big brother, the Soviet Union.

The Trabant's two-stroke engine could push the car to the dizzying speed of 90km per hour (56mph).

Its signature tune - "dang, dang, dang" - remains unmistakable.

"Many of its owners just love that sound," Helmuth Frauendorfer, a broadcaster with MDR German public radio, told BBC News.

"The Trabi disappears and there is a lot of nostalgia in the eastern part of Germany, not necessarily political. People long for the atmosphere of the pre-1989 years. Some of the Trabants have become collectors' items," he said.

Today there are 52,432 Trabant cars in Germany, making them more numerous than Jaguars in a country of fast car lovers, the news website Der Spiegel reports.

Trabant at election time in Templin, eastern Germany
A Trabant defies political change in Templin, eastern Germany
Trabi-mania is not confined to East Germany. Aficionados can be found in other former communist countries, such as Hungary and Romania.

Serban Pretor, who works for Romania's audiovisual council, owns not one, but two Trabants. The one he still drives was purchased in 1978 and the other - a collector's item - in 1980 and is carefully preserved in his garage.

Mr Pretor inherited his love of the Trabant from his father, a former fighter pilot, who bought his first car in 1972.

Serban Pretor was embroiled in a famous incident involving his Trabant, widely reported by the Romanian press.

In 2004 he was roughed up by two agents in the secret service which protects dignitaries, who were trailing his Trabant on a busy road.

They claimed in court that his attempt to overtake the car in front had surprised them, forcing them to end up off the road, an allegation Mr Pretor denies.

The Trabant is slowly disappearing. But 17 years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall 82 drivers' clubs all over Germany are gearing up for a year of parties - to show that despite all the jokes, the Trabi still has the last laugh.

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