When a beautiful, tall German girl by the name of Dagmar Juettmann was 21 years old, world-changing events were happening in Berlin. Relations between East and West Berlin were improving. Many travel restriction had been lifted and there were even rumors that the Berlin Wall itself would be torn down.
But Dagmar didn’t live in Berlin. She was hundreds of kilometers away in the town of Greiz, deep in the heart of East Germany. Dagmar found the events in Berlin to be an annoying distraction. She was focused on two major events in her own life. The first was working hard to pass her Accounting exams. Good jobs were hard to come by in East Germany, and getting her degree was essential. Dagmar was furious that all the other students wanted to talk about was Berlin and The Wall. She needed to study.
The second life-changing event Dagmar was anticipating was getting a brand new Trabant. It was the only car available to East Germans of her family’s economic status and there was a 5 year waiting list.
West Germans made fun of the Trabant. West Germans had the Porsche, the Mercedes and even the Volkswagen, and they ridiculed the poor little Trabant.
There was a lot to ridicule about the Trabant. The car has a 2 cylinder engine that only produces 26 horsepower. Safety features are non-existent. Rumors were that the body of the Tarbant was made out of painted cardboard. This was not true, but the body was made of a flimsy material composed of resin and cotton. To top everything off, the gas tank of the car was on top of the engine. It was as if the designers had been trying to design a car with the most possible potential of catching on fire.
Still, Dagmar wanted that car. A Trabant would mean freedom and independence. With her new Accounting degree, a job and a Trabant she would finally become an independent woman – at least as independent as anyone in Greiz East Germany could hope to be.
The week Dagmar passed her Accounting exams with high marks, World events came crashing down to ruin her life. The Berlin Wall was torn down and the people of East and West Germany rejoiced. Dagmar knew that this was theoretically wonderful news, but like many East Germans she was scared of what it would mean for her personally. What would happen to the economy in East Germany? Would all the communist East German companies collapse, unable to compete with the West? Would there be any jobs for a person with high marks in Accounting from an East German college? Dagmar was despondent.
Just as she was worrying about her future, her father came into her room with a big smile. “I heard from the factory!” he said. “Your brand-new Trabant is ready to pick up. It is my graduation gift to you. I waited for it for 5 years and now it’s ready!”
Dagmar didn’t want the car. She knew it would be worthless when people could get a West German car. She wanted to tell her father she didn’t want the gift, but she just could not disappoint him. He had waited 5 years to give her this gift and it would be cruel not to accept it.
When Dagmar and her father got the Trabant she was feeling a little better. After all, it was shiny and new. It was fun to drive and it did mean she could go where she wanted.
As soon as she dropped her father back home, Dagmar took off in the Trabant to show it to all her friends. Despite the tiny engine, she was determined to see just how fast she could go.
Dagmar had only been driving the Trabant for about 1 hour when she took a corner too fast and the tires slid. She scraped the side of the car into a stone wall, and a rock punched a hole through the side of the car.
Dagmar knew she couldn’t tell her father. She spent the rest of the day diving the car all around Greiz to every place that might possibly be able to fix the hole. But they all wanted a huge amount of money.
Finally towards the end of the day Dagmar found a garage mechanic who took pity on her. She explained in tears about the accident and how she wanted to hide it from her father. The mechanic said that the hole had not structurally damaged the car. It would still drive just fine. He said the hole didn’t really have to be fixed, it just had to look like it was fixed.
He took some sort tape, covered up the hole and painted over the tape. He was a real artist. When he was done the car look as good as new. Of course, if you were to touch that spot, your finger would have punched a hole in the tape.
When the paint dried, Dagmar drove home very slowly. She was still worried about what the changes in Germany would mean to her future, but she felt that, like the problem with the Trabant, somehow things would work out.
Editors Note: – I met Dagmar after communism had fallen and Germany was reunited. Dagmar has a good job in the Finance department of the Dutch chemical company Akzo-Nobel in Dusseldorf. Whenever possible she hires other people from Greiz.
Dagmar kept the Trabant. Once Trabants were no longer being produced, they became collectors items. Car buffs from all over the world wanted to own what was considered to be the “worst car ever made”. Dagmar eventually sold the Trabant for many times more than her father had paid for it. She never told her father about the hole in the car covered with painted tape.