From Prague to Cape Town – in a Trabant

The East German car the Trabant was the butt of many jokes during the communist era, but today the lightweight vehicles are viewed by many with affection. Around the region you will find Trabi enthusiasts, and the Czech Republic is no exception. One group of Czech travellers are currently preparing to travel by Trabant all the way from Prague to Cape Town in South Africa. Their journey will take them through 11 countries and across some 20,000 kilometres. Dan Přibáň is one of five drivers taking part.

“We will start in Prague next week, and we’ll finish in Cape Town, I hope. We’ll cross the whole of Africa – from Tunisia to Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana and finally Cape Town in South Africa. It’s eleven countries, and ten visas.”

You will be covering some 20,000 km. How long do you expect the journey will take?

“I would need six months but we have to make it in two because none of us has much time to spend so long on the road. So it will be a little Trabant rally.”

You will be driving Trabants, which is a car that was once made in East Germany, and was not very popular. Why did you choose Trabants of all cars?

“No, no, it was very popular. It was a very simple car. It wasn’t a [Soviet-made] Volga or Škoda – it was just a simple small car from the 1950s. At that time, it was a great car, but in the 1990s, when its production ended, it was really bad. But we would like to pay tribute to two Czech travellers from the 1930s who had a simple car with a small engine, and Trabant is very much the same car. We could take vintage cars but it’s really expensive, and it would be a pity to take a car like this, so we took Trabants. You can get one for a thousand, or maybe five thousand crowns, than you fix it for some fifty thousand, but it’s simply the same car as the cars from the 1930s that František Foit and Jiří Baum used.”

Are you going to make any special alteration to the cars?

“Yes. We fixed it. But it has to remain the same, if you want to pay tribute to someone who drove a simple car.”

What will you do if any of the cars breaks down along the way? I suppose it would be difficult to get spare parts?

“I don’t know, I really don’t know. Two years ago, we drove a Trabant to Samarkand [in Uzbekistan] and back. And we did it. So I believe we’ll do it again.”

As you said, you’ll be retracing a journey by two Czech travellers who drove across Africa in 1931. Why did you choose to travel in their steps, and will your itinerary be the same as theirs?

“We chose them because they were the first. Foit and Baum were the first Czechs to drive from Prague to Cape Town. It was the first Czech car expedition to Africa, and it was one of the biggest Czech expeditions ever. We’ll follow their route except for the Democratic Republic of the Kongo, which is very unstable these days. So we’ll try to follow the same route as those guys, but we’ll have to make some changes.”

Was it difficult to get all the visas and all the paperwork done?

“Yes. We still don’t have visas for Sudan. I hope we’ll get them next week. But it’s really expensive and difficult, especially in Libya where you have to pay a guide, you have to pay the police, you have to pay for a special permit for the car and for each passenger. We’ll pay a lot for the three days we’ll spend in Libya, but that’s what it takes.”

What will you do when you come back? Are you going to make a documentary film about the journey, or are you planning to put out a book?

“We made a documentary about the Asian journey that will go on sale in November, I think. We’re going to do the same this time – we’ll make a documentary for a Czech TV show called Objektiv. I’m also thinking about a book, but in my job, I do a lot of typing, I don’t really like typing that much, so I’m not sure. But we have a lot of nice photos from Asia, and we’ll have many pictures from Africa, so I would like to put out a book.”

Photo: www.transtrabant.cz