Sticking with the I-Spy theme, let me tel you what I see when I look at this pictue of a quiet, wooded street in a neighborhood my maps calls Gesundbrunnen. It’s a bit over a 20 minute walk North of my apartment in the city center, and though some o the block looks a little run down, it’s got charm. But I figure that the trees probably add to the faded facades and the vacant lots. And if it wasn’t for that grey-blue blotch in the backgound, I never would have given a second thought to the place – it’d hardly stick in my memory. Behind that semi way back on the right is a proud representative of the East German automotive industry, a Wartburg 1000. And in the extreme foreground is another proud representative, this time of all that the West had to offer – a shiny, built in the Bundesrepublik, Ford Taunus. This picture isn’t of a quiet Berlin sidestreet, it’s a 1960s Cold War standoff. These may not be cars you’ve ver heard of, but I assure you, pretty soon they’ll be spinning a very familiar yarn.
The Wartburg hails from some time between 1956 and 1965 whereas the Ford was produced from 1962 to 1966. In that 1962 to 1965 time frame when both of these cars were rolling off factory lines, there certainly was a vast ammount of Cold War business going on. I could try and compose a list of some of the more noteworthy standoffs or scientific achievements that normally fit in a timeline of the period, but I think I’ll just safely say that, when the West and the East weren’t busily subjugating some corner of the Third World, they were probably either shooting really large ammounts of stuff out of the stratosphere or doing finger exercises over big red buttons. But more interesting to me than the real nitty gritty of what was going on, was how the two sides portrayed themselves – as massive, eternal paragons for good, certain to naturally overcome the backwards opposition any day now. In terms of world governments, the US is not that old, not even clocking in three centuries. When the last stone slotted into place in the Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt still had nearly three thousand years to sit back and enjoy. Soviet Russia was chock full of everyday people who were older than the government back in the early 1960s, but if you turn your ear to what kind of messages the West and the East blasted out from TVs, posters, newspapers, they certainly had a different sense of perspective, and it shows on these cars. Both sides of the Iron Curtain attempted to make themselves seem as steady as the tides, with futures as bright as a full moon.
When you walk back down the block, and you see the clean, straight shape of the Ford, the Wartburg’s advertisements start to look more like propoganda. It would be years before the East even had it together enough to copy the looks of this car. It’s small, no bigger than it’s Cold War rival, but it’s squared off and firm. It’s been designed for comfort and utility, to please the buyer in every way. And sure it’s got style, rocket ship style, touting its wares in a way that the Wartburg struggles, because this Ford calls to the future so much more strongly than the Wartburg, a car that had gone for a decade of production unchanged, un tinkered with, left alone. The headlights squeeze forth from the fenders, the taillights just a warm afterglow to be seen as the Taunus rushes past. And while the Wartburg sits decrepit, the Ford is a driver, roof rack and all. These cars, when new, acted as emissaries for their side’s rhetoric, and now they illustrate the progress since then, right on past Die Wende of ’89 to today. If you’re wondering how things look in Berlin East and West, these two cars tell the tale.