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Rennpappe: the “racing cardboard” of East Germany

If you’re familiar with East German cars, you probably know that they’re not the best quality. But that’s probably an understatement: they were so bad, in fact, that Germans began referring to them as Rennpappe, which means “racing cardboard”.

The colloquial term Rennpappe comes from rennen (“to race/run”) and Pappe (“cardboard”). The term mockingly refers to the cheaply-produced Trabant cars – an East German automobile made of inexpensive materials.
The Trabant (also referred to as a Trabi) featured a two-stroke engine and was constructed using Duroplast – a hard plastic consisting of recycled materials. Since the vehicle was built using recycled waste, there was a widely-held misconception that it was made of cardboard, and over time, East Germans referred to the Trabi as a Rennpappe.

©dpa / picture alliance

Between 1957 and 1991, the German Democratic Republic produced 3.7 million Trabis. Due to its poor economy and lack of materials, however, the wait time for the four-passenger vehicle was 14 years.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, many East Germans drove to the West in their Trabants. But many soon realized they would rather have a second-hand western car than a new Trabi, since western cars were more efficient, produced less pollution and were overall better quality. As a result, the Rennpappen were often given away for free, abandoned, or in some cases sold for 1 Deutsche Mark (DM). The Trabant factory, located in Saxony, was shut down in 1991 due to low demand.

©dpa / picture alliance

Over time, however, the Trabant became a symbol of East Germany, and its value began to increase. Having a Rennpappe today is special: they are viewed as antique collector’s items, and often put on display during German festivals, parties and events. And although they are more frequently called Trabis, Germans who used to own one back in the day might still refer to them as their Rennpappe.

©dpa / picture alliance

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy


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