HomeCar CultureLifestyleSpy museum celebrates East Germany’s Trabant

Spy museum celebrates East Germany’s Trabant


“The Trabant is truly awful,” Craig Cheetham writes in his book, The World’s Worst Cars: From Pioneering Failures to Multimillion Dollar Disasters.

“The body is made of an odd, compacted cardboard material known as Duraplast, the two-stroke engines belch out filthy smoke, performance is dreadful and the gear change is among the worst in the world,” he continues.

“An awful car,” he concludes, “but not without its charms.”

Parade of Trabants is scheduled for November 3, 2018

Those charms and the Trabant’s Cold War history are celebrated each fall when the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., hosts its Parade of Trabants car show. This year the date is November 3, from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. on F Street NW just in front of the museum’s current location. (We say current because the museum moves into its new home, about a mile away, early in 2019.)

The Trabant was produced in East Germany from 1957-1990. Many people snuck into West Germany hidden in various places within Trabants and many more drove them through the Brandenberg Gate after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

It is estimated that around 200 of the horrible but historic vehicles made their way to the United States after the fall of the wall, and typically around 20 of them make their way to the Spy museum show.

“This will be our 12th annual parade of Trabants,” said Amanda Ohlke, the museum’s adult education director for exhibition and programs, adding that the museum has been open for 16 years. 

Stasi-uniformed ‘guard’ keeps an eye on the Trabants during their annual display in Washington D.C. | International Spy Museum photos

She said some spectators attend the show because they know about the cars, their East German story and their role in the Cold War era, while others seem to stumble across the show and then become fascinated by the small cars and their stories. 

In addition to the Trabants, it’s not unusual for a few other Cold War-era cars to be on display. 

Also on display are a mock-up of Checkpoint Charlie, the famed East/West border-crossing point; someone dressed up in a Stasi uniform; a German “oompah” band; and other features.

Detroit art museum plans car design exhibit

“Detroit Style: Car Design in the Motor City, 1950-2020” is the title of a special exhibition, tentatively scheduled to run from June 9, 2020 to January 10, 2021 at the Detroit Institute of Art, the facility has announced. Featured will be a dozen vehicles as well as original design drawings and photography to showcase the creative processes that take a vehicle from the drawing board to the street.

In addition, the exhibit will include paintings and sculptures to “highlight the conversation between the American art world and the car culture,” the DIA said in its announcement.

AACA, museum announce agreement

In a joint public statement, the Antique Automobile Club of America and the AACA Museum announced an agreement “resolving all issues related to the various trademarks of their respective organizations.”

“The Club and the Museum believe that they can peacefully co-exist offering their respective services under their respective trademarks without causing confusion. As of this date, neither organization will oppose trademarks entered with the United States Patent and Trade Office (USPTO) by the other party, consistent with their agreement, and both recognize the sovereignty of those marks.”

As part of the agreement, the museum will make it clear in its communications that it is not affiliated with the club. 

It’s trunk or treat time

Trunk-or-Treat events are scheduled beginning October 20 at several automotive museums. First up is the 20th at LeMay – America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington. On October 25, there’s one at the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Michigan, and also at the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana. On October 28, goodies are available at America On Wheels in Allentown, Pennsylvania (1 p.m. to 3 p.m.). 

The Gilmore’s event runs from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and takes place inside the museum as well as outside, where vintage truck rides will be offered.

The famed Wienermobile will visit the Studebaker museum in South Bend, Indiana

Meanwhile, a special attraction at the Studebaker museum will be a visit by the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. The museum also will offer free admission during that time period and notes that it is participating in The Teal Pumpkin Project and will offer special treats to children with food allergies.


KidZone reopens at Corvette museum 

Crash Test area of the new KidZone is designed to show the importance of safety | Museum photos

On October 18, the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, reopens its KidZone area.

“We took a different approach when developing the activities for this space,” said Katie Ellison, market and communications manager for the museum. “We wanted it to be both educational and fun, so we looked at the life cycle of a car, and what it takes to bring a vehicle from an idea to reality.”

The special area for children visiting the museum includes an area to draw cars, to build cars from blocks and wheels, and then to test drive those cars down a series of ramps. They also can do a crash test, and change tires, exhaust and air filter in a service station.

New KidZone includes 1950s era Chevrolet pedal cars

“We worked to incorporate aspects of the STEAM educational approach which focuses on science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics,” said Deb Howard, the museum’s education coordinator. “The more hands-on activities we can offer, the better understanding kids will have of the concepts.”

The remodeled KidZone was completed with a grant from State Farm Insurance and with 1950s-era Chevrolet pedal cars sponsored by the Tri-City Corvette Club of Texas.

Special events this weekend

October 19 is the final day of special workshops at the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile in Torino, Italy, where the museum has been taking part in “Torino Design of the City” events. The museum also has opened its documentation center to students and car enthusiasts during the event.

The Great Fall Auction will be held October 21 at the Owls Head Transportation Museum in Maine.

Muscle Car City in Punta Gorda, Florida, has its monthly car show October 20, with a special National Street Rod Association appreciation day including free safety inspections. The event is hosted by the Peace River Car Club. 

The National Corvette Museum’s Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, stages its final Midwest motorcycle track days of the season October 20-21, with events for beginning riders and those who have plenty of on-track experience.

Mark your calendar

The Simeone Foundation Auto Museum in Philadelphia offers the world premiere of Maserati: A Hundred Years Against All Odds, the first comprehensive film about the marque and its history, to be shown at 7 p.m. on October 23. The event includes a conversation and discussion featuring producer Philip Selkirk and director Luca Dal Monte, a former Maserati director of marketing and public relations.

On October 25, the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany, opens its Cannstatter Hutte (Winter Hut). The facility will be open from Tuesdays through Sundays, from 11:30 a.m., with alpine-inspired and regional food, through December 21, and then again from January 2-24, 2019. 

The Simeone Foundation Auto Museum in Philadelphia plans “An Evening with Hurley Haywood” featuring the sports car racer on October 26.

From October 27 to November 4, the British Motor Museum invites children to serve as junior detectives to find the “Missing Plans” and to learn how to do secret car designs in invisible ink. The adventures begin daily at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. or 2 p.m.

The Newport Car Museum in Rhode Island hosts a German Car Day show October 27 from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.

‘Meet Up’ is the cruise-in at the Mullin museum | Museum photo

The Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, California, hosts a Car Meet Up on October 27 beginning at 9 a.m.

The British Motor Museum hosts the “Large Model Aircraft Show” on October 28 with more than 100 large static radio-controlled aircraft on display.

On October 31, the Simeone Foundation Auto Museum in Philadelphia presents its 11th Spirit of Competition award to Roger Penske on an evening that will feature Amelia Island concours founder Bill Warner as master of ceremonies.

The LeMay Collections at Marymount in Tacoma, Washington, hosts a Sock Hop on November 3 from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.

The California Automobile Museum in Sacramento stages “Whiskey, Cars, Cigars,” its “high-octane party” and fund-raiser on November 3 from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Autobooks-Aerobooks in Burbank, California, features Matt Stone and Ed “Isky” Iskenderian from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on November 3, signing of their book, Hot Rod Empire, the story of Bob Petersen and Hot Rod magazine.

The 11th annual “Vets’n Vettes” event runs November 8-10 at the National Corvette Museum and its NCM Motorsports Park. The program includes laps around the track, road tours and participation in the Bowling Green (Kentucky) Veterans Day Parade. Registration closes October 23.

The AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania, hosts a Corvette Racing Weekend on November 9-10 with driving events, a dinner featuring racers Doug Fehan and Tommy Milner and Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter, and other activities.

“Tuners@ACM” is the title of a new exhibit opening November 10 at LeMay – America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington. The exhibit opens with an “art-in-motion” event from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. on November 10.

The annual library sale at the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Michigan, is scheduled from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. on November 23 and from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. on November 24.

America On Wheels’ 11th annual Moonlight Memories gala in Allentown, Pennsylvania, is scheduled for December 1 from 6 until 10 p.m.

The National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, has opened registration of its Museum In Motion trip to the 24 hours of Le Mans race in 2019. The dates are June 6-17, 2019, and the trip includes four nights in London and three nights in Paris.

Does your local car museum have special events or exhibitions planned? Let us know. Email [email protected].

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


  1. The Trabant is perhaps the world’s most dangerous vehicle. Right after the infamous wall came down, I was working in the Brussels, Belgium area, and frequently traveled on weekends to Ingolstadt, Germany in Bavaria to visit friends. On one such occasion, I had just cleared the Nuremberg area to the south on the Autobahn A9 when a Trabant with East German tags, traveling at maybe a top speed of 80 kph, drifted across 4 lanes of traffic into the extreme left lane in front of me. As I locked down the brakes on my 5 Series BMW at approximately 240 kph, things got fairly dicey in front of me. Miraculously, the Trabant drifted back across all 4 lanes of Autobahn, back into the far right hand lane. It still amazes me to this day the way that vehicle just traveled sideways without flipping or crashing.

    • Obviously Craig Cheetham never drove a Trabant. It’s all you need in a car. It starts, it runs, it stops. Oil changes? Never! Radiator overheating? Never! Fuel pump going out? Never!

      I’ve changed a head gasket on the side of the rode in fifteen minutes with a 10mm and 17mm socket. I’ve had the fan belt snap and all I did was remove the grill and the engine shroud and, sure I was going 20mph for 40 minutes, but I made it home.

      How much rust does the body have? None. How many dents in the duroplast? None.

      Smokey engine? Sure, in the 1970s when they still used 10w-30 instead of two stroke oil. Takes about to seconds to set the timing.

      As for the other poster, sure some idiot crossed four lanes of Autobahn going 80kmh, but 240kmh after the wall came down and plenty of Eastern European still on the road is silly. Hell, I was on the A13 in 2015 in a VW Fox doing 120kmh but I also stayed out of the left lane…

      Trabant, still the best car ever made.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Recent Posts