December 1999. While roaming Berlin’s streets me and my former love Ulrich spots as always a Wartburg. He has driven a Wartburg 353W for many years, which he inherited from his father. He is absolutely in love with these vehicles of the East German car producer Automobilwerk Eisenach, which ended its production in 1991 to be acquired by Opel. He always fancied all kinds of Wartburg automobiles. Once, though, he admitted that one of them is really precious to him: Wartburg 311. “I am dreaming of driving a Wartburg 311 one day…” He sighed, and I marked this dream as one possible venture to undertake to surprise him for his upcoming birthday.
December 1999 – February 2000. I intent to arrange a ride in one of the oldtimer Wartburg 301. What a creative task! It’s somewhat challenging since they aren’t produced anymore since 1965. Although distributed widely, even internationally, it takes me awhile to get hold of one Wartburg fan in Cottbus. It’s not Berlin, but afterall a town at reach. Although my intention is to make Ulrich drive a 311, the owner prefers driving himself. At the end I am grateful for finally having found someone who agrees to make the surprise possible.
Now I just have to agree with Ulrich to go to Cottbus for his birthday present. “Ulrich…would you be willing to go to Cottbus for receiving your birthday present?” Surprised and super curious he agrees slowly, and suddenly appears very eager to figure what I am doing all day long with the intention to find out what am I organizing. I smile knowingly, and am sure to keep him in the state of having NO CLUE at all.
February 5th, 2000. We take a train to Cottbus, arriving as agreed at the train stations’ car park. Ulrich is wondering, when I tell him we had to wait for someone. Deviously, I drag him to the parking lot. It doesn’t take long – of course – until Ulrich spots the light-blue Wartburg 311. Completeley excited he gets closer, marvelling at the oldtimer. All of a sudden, Ulrich seems struck by a thunderous lightning when finding an A4-size handwritten note on the car window stating, “Dear Ulrich, I wish you a happy birthday! Your birthday present will be a ride in this Wartburg 311. Enjoy it!” Completely overwhelmed, Ulrich is unable to speak. His eyes shine like gleaming stars.
The car owner appears, offering him the by-driver seat, while explaining that we would first get a Cottbus city tour, and then drive into the outskirts of town to his garage where his Wartburg collection is stored.
The ride in the Wartburg 311 is heavenly to Ulrich. Not only can he enjoy the ride in his favourite car, he also gets the opportunity to lead expert talks about Wartburg’s different models, their advantages and disadvantages, their special features, the tricks of repairing them, and so on. I am blissful, feeling somehow as if I was in a movie of the ’60s. And I love the Sixties!
The Wartburg storage appears to be huge, revealing a total of about 30 cars (or less, but definitely more than many). The garage could easily become a Wartburg museum, and even I get hooked by the fascination of Wartburg models.
After an intense inspection of the lot we continue back to the train station. Finally, Ulrich is allowed to drive himself, and truly touched by such trusting gesture of the collector. While Ulrich holds the wheel and pushes the gas, the owner asists with useful advises for a proper 311 handling. We are driving through a world seemingly extinct, which feels somehow like “Back to the Future”.
On the way back to Berlin Ulrich is still in amazement of what he has just experienced. I fulfilled one of his most precious dreams, showing that the Wartburg 311 is not just a modell of “the forgotten” East German glorious times, but fully alive today, and now even an active part of his own life.