Now, before I begin this entry, let e first post a correction to my last write-up, the Wartburg and the Ford. I concluded by saying that in addition to representing East and West of old, the two cars from opposite sides of the Wall were stand-ins for how Berlin looks today, East and West. And that’s not quite right. The division between well-kept Berlin and run-down Berlin does not retrace the Cold War’s line of demarcation. Building funds spilled Eastward after ’89 and now you can’t claim that either the Wessie’s side or the Ossie’s side looks categorically nicer. The former East may forever claim to be Berlin’s grittier, grungier half, but such a claim is hard to reconcile with the glittering spire of the Fernsehturm looking out over green parks filled with burbling fountains and lined with trendy sidewalk cafes. To me, at least, an American exchange student with a date of departure never fully out of mind, the East feels somehow…fresher. I get a fleeting sense that there’s something going on when I’m in the old East – a feeling less apparent in the West. Now, if you expect me to produce some ratty-but-rare street-parked car to act as a perfect metaphor for my feelings towards former East Berlin, you’ll have to wait. Not only for that car to show up, but for me to get my head in order. But that’s not to say I don’t have some piece of automotive symbolism with a story to tell, just that this time I will tackle part of the whole German psyche, and not just its capitol city’s. I mean, I took Intro to Anthro – What’s there that me and a strong sense of entitlement can’t b.s. our way into? Now I’m not going to blather on about precision, or efficiency, or how ze Germans luff to keep eferyting in Ordnung all uff ze time. I’ve got a big Mercedes for that. No, today, I’m out for another chunk of the Teutonic stereotype: the Bitburger-swilling German knucklehead.
And while I could certainly use this Pontiac Firebird from the early ’70s (after all, it’s big, it’s brash and it’s so…orange), but black stripes and widebody fiberglass add-ons aside, its redneck credentials make it too much a representative for another mulleted roughneck; it’s too American. That’s why I’ve chosen this, an Opel Manta. Why? Because it’s got history.
Hailing from the same time and place that brought you Love at First Sting by The Scorpions, Restless and Wild by Accept, and any of a host of hair metal bands that brought together teenage energy and bad taste certainly on a scale not seen before. West Germany in the 1980s was a perfectly clean and modern country; its shoulder pads jutted out just as rigidly as any other post-industrial nation, but this two-door mulletmobile bears a grime that only slick capitalism can provide. When those under the most glorious protection of the communist German state lifted up their car’s hood to see what exactly was the cause for that billowing steam pouring out where thick smog ought to be, they had a Trabant to fix. The mobility of their family was on the line, but for those lucky enough to be gently caressed by socialism’s thoughtful touch, to wrench away under the hood meant chasing after your dreams. And whether that mythical Manni (the general name meant to address an of W. Germany’s gearheaded riff-raff) was out to get the gum-cracking, big hair mall girl, or to muscle past some namby-pamby Ferrari, his chariot was a Manta.
For all the macho West Germans of the ’80s, there were two cars to choose from. If you had it together, if you had a well paying job or maybe you had some substantial paternal funding, you got a Golf GTI. You might’ve been sleazy, but you were on the privileged half of low society. Who knows? you could end up as somebody’s boss somewhere. Sure your current leisure activities included cruising the strip for girls with low self-esteem and trying to figure out how much of everything you own you can coordinate into a red-and-black color scheme, but you were going somewhere. Now, if you had more guff than brains, if you thought your head was best used crushing things, or if you were just up to no good, you got a Manta. This car may not look particularly tough. I can tell you it’s not particularly fast and you can tell pretty clearly that it’s not exactly much of a head turner. It really is not ahead of any other car in any definable category of durability, performance, style, space, or really any metric. But to those who have an ear turned towards the gruffer, less widely circulated side of German life, it’s sitting at the very top of the heap. So put away your Bach, your Brahms, your Beethoven. Set aside Kant, Hegel and Nietzsche. Leave out Einstein, Planck and Leibnitz, and give three cheers for Manni and his Manta. Without them, Germany wouldn’t be the same.