This is my apartment a few blocks from Alexanderplatz and do you see what I see? Exactly! A surprising lack of 1960s German microcars! Luckily, a long walk through the city took me along Schoenhauser Allee where, tucked into a wee parking lot, sat this, a spectacularly peppy orange Goggomobil TS Coupe 250. Walking down the streets of Berlin, there are plenty of reminders of the utter destruction of the war years when Dr. Goebbels broadcast TV from the Funkturm, when Allied bombs crumbled one of Europe’s great capitols into dust. In the right neighborhoods, every block or two has its own little park, with some trees and a swingset. They’re cute now, but are just as much scars from B-52 claws as they are playgrounds. The Goggomobil tells a similar story, one of a bright face, fresh from the ashes of World War II.If postwar Germany had much of anything, it wasn’t money, and if you had the cash to go out shopping for a new car, something like a Volkswagen was going to look like a rich-man’s fantasy. You weren’t one of those black market pushers down the street, after all, you were just a working family man, and whatever Deutschmarks you had crammed under the mattress could maybe stretch to a Goggomobil, but that was about it. In post-fascist Italy, the step up from the buzzy, windswept life of riding around on Vespas came in the form of the Fiat 500, and Germany got the Goggomobil. Stylish, ne? It may be small, it may be slow, but it’s better than what you’d expect from a company that was turning out sewing machines as their major product just a few years earlier. But, just like the rest of Berlin, the little Goggomobil seems to have moved on.It’s sitting in the neighborhood known as Prenzlauer Berg, a hunk of former East Berlin that is only now etching away the graffiti from its apartment house facades. The neighborhood went from being on the wrong side of WWII’s bombing campaigns to being on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, but in the two decades since die Mauer fell, this part of town went topsy-turvy. There was the stereotypical story of the artists finding their way into a slum, only to be followed by the richer social classes and a few thick wads of restoration projects. It’s still a good part of town to meet some of Berlin’s more interesting bums, and though Prenzlauer Berg is far from a perfect, stable, cleaned up neighborhood, it does have a fresh feel shining out from the grime on its apartment blocks, remnants of decades of communist neglect of emissions controls of their factories and cars. There’s a sense of taking the depressed glum of bygone years and taking it anew. And while I don’t really need to draw many comparisons from the little orange two-door to the gentrified former slum, just think about how much fun it would be to just buzz around, encased in a little tin shell, that acorn-shaped prow cutting through the urban mire. And they say there’s no such thing as cheap and cheerful – whirring behind those cloth seat you’d be sitting on would be an engine with a capacity of just 250 cubic centimeters. Out of a motor so little that with its lungs fully heaved – like a stubborn, blue faced kid pouting away – could only suck in as much air as a quarter of a carton of milk, the proud driver of this Goggomobil beep beeps past those single-lot parks, those once-rubble neighborhoods, and to me it all seems just right.
Posted by: Raphael Orlove | September 10, 2009
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