Tag Archives: Trabant

European Capital of Culture 2000 – Krakow

On the second day of our visit to Krakow there were two groups with very different plans.  Micky, Sue and Christine were going to visit Auschwitz but as we had been before Kim and I chose Mike’s Crazy Communist Tour instead.

We had seen this on a Michael Palin travel programme and it looked like fun so we were keen to give it a try.

To be honest, we were all a bit surprised that Christine wanted to go to Auschwitz because when we had visited Seville the previous year she refused to visit a bull ring because animals had been killed there but she didn’t seem to mind visiting a Nazi concentration camp where over a million and a half people were abused, tortured and murdered.

Auschwitz

After an early breakfast the Auschwitz group set off in their taxi and with an hour to spare before our trip we walked around the streets of Kazimierz, through buildings that were little more than empty shells with rapidly deteriorating structures, through the grounds of a grand church and into the main square that used to be even more important than the market square in Krakow itself.

Without a street map we inevitably became confused and ever so slightly lost and only made it back just in time for our scheduled nine-thirty pick up.

The feature of the tour is that the transport is in an original ‘communist’ Trabant car with the promise of a ‘crazy’ driver and sure enough outside our hotel was the vehicle and the driver who presented himself as Eric and who immediately introduced us to the features of the car.

The Trabant (which in medieval German was a foot soldier or personal guard) was an automobile that was produced in former East Germany and was the most common vehicle in that country but was also exported to neighbours inside the communist bloc and sometimes even to the west.

It was called the People’s Car and was so popular and production was so inefficient, that it could take up to fifteen years to deliver after placing the order.  The main selling point was that it had room for four adults and luggage in a compact, light and durable shell, which western critics mocked and suggested was made of cardboard but was in fact a sort of fibreglass/plastic.

There were four principal variants of the Trabant, ours was the 601 Station Wagon model, hand painted in black with socialist red trim and finishes.  Eric explained that the engine was a small 600cc two-stroke power unit with only two cylinders which gave the vehicle a modest performance with a top speed of seventy miles per hour and zero to sixty taking twenty-one seconds at full throttle ( for a rather pointless comparison a modern formula one car will achieve 0 to 60 in under two seconds).

There were two main problems with the engine, the smoky exhaust and the pollution because the car was responsible for producing nine times the amount of hydrocarbons and five times the carbon monoxide emissions of the average modern European car.

Eric explained that the car had no fuel gauge so even though there was a small reserve tank getting to a destination could be a bit of a guessing game and require a large stroke of luck.  Because there was no fuel pump in the car the petrol tank was placed high up in the engine compartment so that fuel could be fed directly to the carburetor by way of gravity.  As the engine does not have an oil injection system two-stroke oil has to be added to the fuel tank every time it is filled up, which I imagine is a bit of a chore.

This all sounded rather dangerous to me because you have to open the bonnet to refuel and after a run to the petrol station it would be almost certain that the engine will be hot so I imagine it takes a great deal of concentration and Indiana Jones type nerves of steel to visit the filling station!

Nowa Huta Krakow Poland

Keeping a car like this roadworthy probably requires divine intervention but once on board Eric carefully negotiated his way out of Kazimierz and towards the main road that would take us to our destination, the communist model new town of Nowa Huta, to the east of Krakow.

Inside, the car was basic with rudimentary controls and dashboard.  The four speed gear box was operated by a column mounted gear change which looked quite tricky to me but Eric seemed to know his way around the gears well enough and he guided us effortlessly through the early morning traffic.  One of the problems he pointed out was that other drivers didn’t often show a lot of respect to the little Trabant and this sometimes made progress slow and difficult.

I was moderately relaxed even though I knew that if the inefficient drum brakes ever failed and there was an accident that my legs were effectively the crumple zone and just a few centimetres in front of my face was the fragile little petrol tank ready to burst into flames and there was a couple of occasions when I found myself operating an imaginary foot brake and Kim admitted later that even though she was in the back seat that she was doing the same.

It took about twenty minutes to drive to our destination and in between dodging the gaping potholes and keeping an eye out for discourteous fellow road users, in preparation for the tour and over the clatter of the engine and the creaking of the chassis, Eric kept up an informative narrative about the history of communism in Poland.

It was great fun especially as we rattled over tramlines and Eric fought with the steering controls to negotiate some tight bends but eventually we arrived at our destination, left the car and began our visit to Nowa Huta.

http://www.crazyguides.com/

Weekly Photo Challenge: New – Nowa Huta, Krakow

Nova Huta Krakow Rose Avenue

Nowa Huta (literally new smelter or steel mill) was built for two hundred thousand Polish steel workers in just ten years between 1949 and 1959 and was designed to rebalance Krakow society in favour of the proletariat to overwhelm the largely conservative and bourgeois city that was a focus of opposition and an irritation to the communist government.  The authorities built, what was at the time, the biggest steel works in the World and created a model communist town and society to support it.

Read the full story…

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Reflections

Krakow – Crazy Eric’s Communist Tour

The Trabant (which in medieval German was a foot soldier or personal guard) was an automobile that was produced in former East Germany and was the most common vehicle in that country but was also exported to neighbours inside the communist bloc and sometimes even to the west.

There were four principal variants of the Trabant, ours was the 601 Station Wagon model, hand painted in black with socialist red trim and finishes.

Eric explained that the engine was a small 600cc two-stroke power unit with only two cylinders which gave the vehicle a modest performance with a top speed of seventy miles per hour and zero to sixty taking twenty-one seconds at full throttle.

Read the full story…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Journey

On a visit to Krakow in 2010 we chose to go on Mike’s Crazy Communist Tour,  we had seen this on a Michael Palin travel programme and it looked like fun so we were keen to give it a try.  The feature of the tour is that the transport is in an original ‘communist’ Trabant car with the promise of a ‘crazy’ driver and sure enough outside our hotel was the vehicle and the driver who presented himself as Eric and who immediately introduced us to the features of the car.

Read the full story…

Poland, Communist Central Planning – Cities

The Nowa Huta city tour is designed as an alternative to the castles, cathedrals and palaces of Krakow and first of all the driver, whose name was Eric, took us to a restaurant called the Stylowa (meaning Stylish) in a prestigious location on central Rose Avenue that has been there since 1956 and is a local legend locked now in a communist time warp.

Once it was the most exclusive restaurant in the town and was a meeting place for the elite of Nowa Huta, the lawyers, professors, artists and the engineers from the nearby steelworks.  Stylowa was as a top class restaurant, tastefully decorated in white with golden highlights, numerous mirrors, wonderful crystal chandeliers, solid tables and chairs and splendid marble floor and pillars.  It has had a couple of renovations over the years of course but it still retains the original features (including the waitresses) and it was a fascinating insight into the past.

Over Coffee Eric introduced us to the history of Nowa Huta and talked us through a scrap book of photographs and memories accompanied by a personal interpretation and a fascinating first-hand account based on his family recollections of life under a communist regime.  This was sensible Eric and with his expressive and thoughtful blue eyes contrasting against his pale academic complexion he provided an interesting and coherent narrative based on a combination of facts, moving reminiscences and personal political theories.  We didn’t expect or require Eric to be crazy and I sensed that he was more comfortable with that.  I especially liked his analysis of communist economics that he assessed as being based on making things inefficient as possible – on purpose!

Nowa Huta was built for two hundred thousand Polish steel workers in just ten years between 1949 and 1959 and was designed to rebalance Krakow society in favour of the proletariat to overwhelm the largely conservative and bourgeois city that was a focus of opposition and an irritation to the communist government.  The authorities built, what was at the time, the biggest steel works in the World and created a model communist town and society to support it.

The best Polish architects planned the city and Nowa Huta was built to the preferred communist Renaissance model with a rigid geometry and a sunburst pattern where streets radiated in perfect straight lines and through symmetrical angles from a central square at the hub of the town.

Communism is an ideology that seeks to establish a classless, stateless social organisation based on common ownership and centralised planning and that principal had helped to give the cities to the citizens and wide open spaces in which to enjoy them. The designers of Nowa Huta had aimed to sweep away the class inequalities so there were no churches and the whole place had a uniform design that was constructed out of their most favourite building material – concrete.

Nowa Huta however turned out to be the bizarre product of thoughtless communist central planning. The land had been confiscated from the Church who had owned vast parts of pre communist Krakow and had farmed this rich land for centuries. The focus of the town was a huge steelworks, yet there was no iron ore or coal for hundreds of miles around so had to be transported in.  It was built on the richest and most valuable farmland in the region and the concrete and tarmac was laid without thought over an important Neolithic settlement whose value now can only be imagined.

Krakow resented Nowa Huta and to a certain extent still does and there is an uneasy co-existence between the working class suburb and the bourgeois city.  It has a reputation for being lawless and dangerous and now, after the history lesson, it was time to go onto the streets to see for ourselves if this was true and this was to be another surprise.  In contrast to more recent developments the town is comparatively low-rise with wide streets, spacious boulevards, green open parks, flower beds and trees and although badly scarred by industrial pollution the buildings are substantial and the infrastructure of the town is in surprisingly good shape compared with some other suburbs of Krakow that we had seen.  I could certainly understand why people are currently lobbying to have Nowa Huta added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

The sun was shining and it all felt safe and rather pleasant walking through the wide open spaces of the communist showpiece and listening to Eric’s reflective commentary about the way of life of the people that lived here.  I could almost imagine the fifteen metre high statue of Lenin outside the Stylowa restaurant and the chimneys of the steelworks belching smoke and pollution into the atmosphere and, I’m guessing here of course, but I imagine that in the old days there would have been a hammer and sickle on the site of modern day Ronald Regan Avenue!

After the stroll though the town we returned now to the Trabant and Eric took us on a ride through the streets.  The car clattered down the wide boulevard known as the Champs-Élysées and to the gates of the now privatised steel works that employs only 10% of the original forty-thousand workforce.

From here we carried on through the outskirts, past a bizarre piece of public street art, an olive green T34 Soviet combat tank and then to the very first church that was built in Nowa Huta after a long campaign to obtain construction permission.  On the return to Krakow we passed through a modern addition to the town, which was much closer to our original expectations with rows and rows of grim high rise apartments, which with Housing Association landlords now rather than the State, were at least trying to cheer themselves up with a bright coat of exterior paint.

After an excellent morning Eric took us back to the old town and explained that although this was a communist tour we would have to pay a capitalist fee for the excursion in his luxury limousine and we happy with that because this had been a real highlight of the week.

 

http://www.crazyguides.com/

Every Picture Tells a Story – First Cars

Terror drive in Naxos

Poland, Communist Central Planning – The Trabant

On our second visit to Krakow in 2010 we chose to go on Mike’s Crazy Communist Tour,  we had seen this on a Michael Palin travel programme and it looked like fun so we were keen to give it a try.  The feature of the tour is that the transport is in an original ‘communist’ Trabant car with the promise of a ‘crazy’ driver and sure enough outside our hotel was the vehicle and the driver who presented himself as Eric and who immediately introduced us to the features of the car.

The Trabant (which in medieval German was a foot soldier or personal guard) was an automobile that was produced in former East Germany and was the most common vehicle in that country but was also exported to neighbours inside the communist bloc and sometimes even to the west.  It was called the People’s Car and was so popular, and production was so inefficient, that it could take up to fifteen years to deliver after placing the order.  The main selling point was that it had room for four adults and luggage in a compact, light and durable shell made of fibreglass and plastic, which western critics mocked and rather unkindly suggested was in fact made of cardboard.

There were four principal variants of the Trabant, ours was the 601 Station Wagon model, hand painted in black with socialist red trim and finishes.  Eric explained that the engine was a small 600cc two-stroke power unit with only two cylinders which gave the vehicle a modest performance with a top speed of seventy miles per hour and zero to sixty taking twenty-one seconds at full throttle.  There were two main problems with the engine, the smoky exhaust and the pollution because the car was responsible for producing nine times the amount of hydrocarbons and five times the carbon monoxide emissions of the average modern European car.

Eric explained that the car had no fuel gauge so even though there was a small reserve tank getting to a destination could be a bit of a guessing game and require an element of luck.  Because there was no fuel pump in the car the petrol tank was placed high up in the engine compartment so that fuel could be fed directly to the carburetor by gravity.  As the engine does not have an oil injection system two-stroke oil has to be added to the fuel tank every time it is filled up, which I imagine is a bit of a chore.  This all sounded rather dangerous to me because you have to open the bonnet to refuel and after a run to the petrol station it would be almost certain that the engine will be hot so I imagine it takes a great deal of concentration and Indiana Jones type nerves of steel to visit the filling station!

Keeping a car like this roadworthy probably requires divine intervention but once on board Eric effortlessly negotiated his way out of Kazimierz and towards the main road that would take us to our destination, the communist model new town of Nowa Huta, to the east of Krakow.  Inside, the car was basic with rudimentary controls and dashboard.  The four speed gear box was operated by a column mounted gear change which looked quite tricky to me but Eric seemed to know his way around the gears well enough and he guided us effortlessly through the early morning traffic.  One of the problems he pointed out was that other drivers didn’t often show a lot of respect to the little Trabant and this sometimes made progress slow and difficult.

Nowa Huta Krakow

I was moderately relaxed even though I knew that if the inefficient drum brakes ever failed and there was an accident that my legs were effectively the crumple zone and just a few centimetres in front of my face was the fragile little petrol tank ready to burst into flames and there was a couple of occasions when I found myself operating an imaginary footbrake and Kim admitted later that she was doing the same.

It took about twenty minutes to drive to our destination and in between dodging the gaping potholes and keeping an eye out for discourteous fellow road users, in preparation for the tour and over the clatter of the engine and the creaking of the chassis, Eric kept up an informative narrative about the history of communism in Poland.  It was great fun especially as we rattled over tramlines and Eric fought with the steering controls to negotiate some tight bends but eventually we arrived at our destination, left the car and began our visit to Nowa Huta.

Eric was doing his best to be ‘crazy’ but I noticed that he locked the car and checked the doors in the same careful way that my dad used to lock his Ford Anglia before leaving it unattended and I was beginning to suspect that being crazy wasn’t something that actually came all that naturally to him.  He had wild hair arranged in extravagant dreadlocks and an outward bohemian appearance but behind the external image he was really an educated scholar with an impressive knowledge of Krakow, word perfect English and an incisive philosophical interpretation of his subject.

You can read Michael palin’s version of the tour here, http://palinstravels.co.uk/book-4439, it’s not as good as mine!

 

http://www.crazyguides.com/

Every Picture Tells a Story – First Cars

Terror drive in Naxos

Krakow, Nowa Huta

Eric was doing his best to be ‘crazy’ but I noticed that he locked the car and checked the doors in the same careful way that my dad used to lock his Ford Anglia before leaving it unattended and I was beginning to suspect that being crazy wasn’t something that actually came all that naturally to him.  He had wild hair arranged in extravagant dreadlocks and an outward bohemian appearance but behind the external image he was really an educated scholar with an impressive knowledge of Krakow, word perfect English and an incisive philosophical interpretation of his subject.

Read the full story…

Krakow, Eric’s Crazy Guide Communist Tour

On the second day of our visit to Krakow there were two groups with very different plans.  Micky, Sue and Christine were going to visit Auschwitz but as we had been before Kim and I chose Mike’s Crazy Communist Tour instead.  We had seen this on a Michael Palin travel programme and it looked like fun so we were keen to give it a try.

Read the full story…