Trabi Roof Tents And East German Holiday Culture

  • Urlaub in der DDRDie Wende and the German reunification twenty years ago inspired us to look back and find out about pop-up culture in the former Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR). One of the most significant aspects of the East German memory is, without any doubt, the Trabant. Less famous is the tent that could be constructed on top of these automobiles. The Trabi, as Germans still call the dirty plastic car, has turned out to be the icon of the East German consumer-based socialism. Fashionable style and design of the early days of the DDR are an important part of East German culture. The Trabant was a central player in this ‘design for all’. The car was highly appreciated, although people had to wait ages before getting one since the production process failed. They came in all colors except black, perhaps as a reaction to Henry Ford’s ambition to make cars for his employees painted in any color that they want, as long as it was black.

    A roof tent was optional for the lucky families, but it led inevitably to a collective holiday culture. The complete working class spent its holiday time camping on the Ostsee, the Bodensee and other lakes that were close-by. Propaganda programs of the Socialist Party stimulated these happy family holidays, which made the East German camping sites transforming into rooftop tent villages that could easily be considered flexible cities avant la lettre. For most former East Germans, the look of this tent must remind them of good memories. The smell of Bratwurst on the barbecue, a vodka hang-over, or a sweaty wake-up call by a burning sun in the morning.

    Trabant Roof TentTrabant Roof Tent
    Maybe that’s the reason why groups of East Germans still travel through Europe with Trabi equipments. They are celebrating their collective past, expressed by using the word ‘Ostalgie’. In entire Germany there’s still a huge demand for Trabant rooftop tents, which stresses the great impact of this invention. From that perspective it’s strange that the concept of camping on top of a car has mostly disappeared after the fall of communism. Therefore I would propose a reintroduction of the rooftop tent, coming with a modernized Trabant, of which a concept recently has been launched.