Looking for exclusivity? Drive a Trabant

Bashed down and the object of so many jokes over the years, the little communist car is now at risk of disappearing. With only 180 cars registered in Belgium (Source: FEBIAC, 2021), a Trabant has become more exclusive than a Ferrari (2.822 units) or a Porsche (47.450).

Contrary to the common belief, the East German car was exported all over Europe and sold in Belgium all across the 70s and 80s - brought here by the hand of not one but two importers: Achiel Olbrechts and Ets.Pierreux. With its little smoky, two-stroke engine and only 24hp the Trabant is clearly not a race champion, but on the streets, it grabs as much attention as the latest sports beast.

The same goes for other east-bloc, less-known brands, like the Wartburg or Moskvich. They are also on the verge of disappearing and with them years of automotive history and personal memories. Fortunately, a bunch of crazy fans decided to perpetuate the presence of Eastern old-timers on the Belgian roads and save them from extinction. Every year, at the beginning of September they flock to Kasterlee for the “Oostblok meeting”.

A sense of Oostalgia

With over a hundred cars, someone passing by could be led to believe that Gagarin was resurrected and Berlin still divided. Trabants and Ladas are joined by Barkas, Volgas, and other makes. The Belgians mingle with the Dutch, the French and the German participants from all walks of life, some of whom drove hundreds of kilometers.

Many camp on the site - often with the same gear from the 80s. The music is mixed with the revs from the engines while hard-to-find parts are traded. The gathering includes even a pop-up GDR museum, where toys, radios, postcards and paraphernalia of artefacts are on display. This year edition kicked of with a drive-in cinema session, on Friday night, that set the tone for the weekend.

With so few of these cars remaining in circulation the “Oostblok meeting” is quite a unique opportunity to see these machines - particularly on this side of the Iron Curtain - and a spike into a world that we thought disappeared.

A new generation arises

Mark Buylinckx, is the leader of the bunch. For the past 5 years, he has taken days off from work, and drags his entire family to build this gathering. "These cars have always been the ugly ducks. They were cheap and a lot of us have been trolled for driving a Lada or a Yugo. But we don't care, we're proud of it. We were retro before retro was cool!” he says.

And indeed, these cars are becoming more appealing and younger generations are now joining the community. Despite their growing rarity, these cars remain affordable when compared to other oldtimers. Some did not hesitate to hit the road at the wheel of an old Wartburg and travel to the North Cape or as far as Mongolia. And, surprisingly or not, they managed to come back!

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