Inventor Trabant

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Who can still remember 9 November 1989, the day that the Berlin Wall was knocked down and thousands of GDR residents were introduced to the Free (...) West. Many in their simmering and smoking Trabant. Just like the (Willys) Jeep became the automobile icon of 'liberation' in 1945, so did the Trabant.

Only the "spiritual father" of this symbol, Werner Lang, did not share in this success. On 23 March 1923 was born in Bermsgrün on the Czech border, after completing his school education, he spent his internship years as an automotive engineer in the neighboring Schwarzenberg. After the war he chose East Germany over the free West and got a job at Horch (part of Auto Union) where he became director of the nationalized company in 1951 which was now called Sachsenring Kraftfahrzeug und Motorenwerks Zwickau. In 1958 he became head of the design and development department there. The first Trabant, the P50 - where the letter 'P' stands for 'Plastic' and the number 50 indicated the engine content of the smoking 500 cm3 two-stroke engine - rolled off 7 November 1957 on the tire. To save on the scarce and therefore expensive metal there, the bodywork was carried out in Duroplast, a mixture of 'resin' with cotton and wool remnants, which proved to be extremely strong. In crash tests with small Western cars, they often had to take it.

In the GDR the Trabant was seen as an answer to the VW Beetle from the West, a car that the owner could easily maintain with just a few tools. In most Trabis there was also a V-belt and a pair of spark plugs, a screwdriver, a spark plug wrench, a hammer and a pair of spanners. It was hoped that the people in the socialist stronghold would throw themselves en masse on the cart and it worked - despite the many years of waiting list. The Trabant was also exported to other Eastern Bloc countries and the Free West. Trabis were even stolen and smuggled across the border with Poland. Werner Lang and his staff developed various prototypes over the course of their hair. Every renewal, however, was wiped off by the government there because of the high costs that this would entail. In 1963 a new (...) version of the P50 appeared on the market with improved brakes and an upgraded electrical system. Werner Lang received an honorary doctorate from the University of Dresden in 1966. 'Herr Doctor' was general manager of Sachsenring from 1970 to 1983; in 2008 he received the Martin-Römer-Ehren medal from the city of Zwickau.

Despite his high age, he still felt closely involved with 'his' Trabi. Days before his final end, he was busy organizing a large international meeting for all fans of 'his' car. Werner Lang, the spiritual father and 'inventor' of the Trabant P601 died on 17 June 2013 as a result of a kidney problem in his home town of Zwickau at the age of 91.


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