Ein Berliner Wagen

Im Ludwigsfelde gebaut, aber kein erdgebundener Lastkraftwagen – der IFA W50 ist ein Raumschiff.


So what struck me about this mammoth load-power-vehicle was just how much it seemed to come out of a set from Star Wars, but this is more than just a movie lookalike; this truck was the workhorse of East Germany. IFA stands for Industrieverband Fahrzeugbau, or Industrial Association of Motor Vehicle Construction, according to my stiff translation. IFA built the East’s motorcycles, cars, trucks, everything.

I suppose what makes it difficult for me to conclude my thoughts on this truck is its designation as an industrial machine. Trabis and Wartburgs ferried Ossies around in their private lives – it is easier for me to divest them of the oppression of the East German government. It is easier for me to see a car or a scooter transformed and reinterpreted in the years after reunification than it is for me to happily dream of this W50 as heaving through some Coruscant loading dock.

It was W50s like this one that built up the East’s prisons, carried their crates of listening equipment. This LKW seems to carry still the Last of the DDR.

Then again, that is very much the trouble with remembering East Germany and is the root of questions over Ostalgie. You have to take the good with the bad, somehow.                                                     So then let me say that this is one awesome truck, and perhaps greatly because it seems so mysterious to me. When I first saw it, I didn’t know what it was, only assuming it was some kind of East-Bloc truck. It seemed to have some secret knowledge of life behind the Wall that I didn’t know, and the way that the grime caked onto it was the dirt of unknown communist operations, so fascinating to this American born just weeks before die Wende of ’89.

Ultimately, this IFA W50 looks like it was plucked from amongst the stars, but a more earthly vehicle would be hard to find.

For Research:

Were you to start on an investigation of DDR automotive manufacturing, you might look where I did: Wikipedia.de. I suppose not everybody speaks German, and perhaps I will do a piece of more detail on this topic and the issues it raises. There are also English wikis for these pages, but the German ones are more informative.




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4 Responses to Ein Berliner Wagen

  1. Ben Orlove says:

    The simple geometry of this truck–the sheets of metals, the rectangular window with the slightly rounded corners, the utterly unadorned radiator grille–lead me to wonder whether the East Germans were entirely unconcerned with aerodynamics, whether they were so strapped for funds that they couldn’t allocate the time of engineers or of factory workers to add a few curves, whether they were somehow heirs of the Russian constructivists , or whether they had come up with a home-grown style that flaunted industrial minimalism. At the very least, someone had to choose that wonderful yellow: was it the product of much thought, or was their range of alternatives as small as that of a child who has the smallest box of crayons ?

    • Raphael Orlove says:

      Allow me to address several points in your comment “Ben”…if that is your real name.
      First of all, let’s take a moment to appreciate the link between Russian constructivism and an old truck.

      Secondly, I think that it would be difficult to say whether or not this W50 is exhibiting a brutally functionalist design, or if it actually has its own artistic style. I can’t imagine that it would be cheaper or easier to manufacture panels with the gentle rounding seen just below the cabin windows, for example, but it might strengthen the construction.
      However, when you compare this IFA to something like an American contemporary, a 1963 Dodge commercial truck the East German seems to very much have a functionalist look about it:
      Look at those extravagant headlight surrounds! The shameless pride of individual D-O-D-G-E lettering!
      In any case, yes, it is an absolutely amazing yellow that so immediately communicates a comfortable seriousness.

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