Daimler helps GDR citizens - and their “Trabis”

You don’t have to be an expert on economic policy in “actually existing socialism” to understand why there were no Daimler locations in the German Democratic Republic. But that doesn’t mean the fall of the Berlin Wall had no impact on our colleagues in the Daimler plants in West Germany. On the contrary! We combed through our archives — and in old copies of our employee newspaper we found unexpected stories written in the turbulent days between the end of 1989 and the beginning of 1990.

The in-house plant newspaper from 1989

Issue 7/89 of our in-house newspaper, then titled “intern”, includes a report about people who had left the GDR via Hungary or the former Czechoslovakia in the days before the country’s borders were officially opened.

The first temporary lodging in the Federal Republic of Germany for 550 of these leavers was in Daimler’s employee dormitories in Esslingen and Sindelfingen that existed at the time. The report quotes Hans-Wolfgang Hirschbrunn: “I’ve talked to many of these people, and I was impressed by their many personal stories, hardships, and hopes.” Hirschbrunn was the commercial plant manager in Untertürkheim at that time and later became the Head of Human Resources of Daimler-Benz AG. The influx of former German Democratic Republic citizens was coming at a good time for Daimler, which was on the lookout for new employees in commercial and technical fields. Many of the migrants from the then German Democratic Republic had completed apprenticeships in the automotive or metalworking industries and could imagine themselves gaining a foothold in the Stuttgart region.

A warm welcome for visitors from East Berlin and the GDR

A report from the plant newspaper in 1990

Issues 7/89 and 1/90 of “intern” were published only a few weeks apart. However, these were the very weeks during which the old political world order imploded — and this transformation was also experienced by our Daimler colleagues in West Berlin. “The opening of the inner-German border has created previously unimaginable opportunities for travel and interaction, especially in Berlin,” wrote “intern.” “During the Christmas season, the Mercedes-Benz location in West Berlin prepared a warm welcome for many visitors from East Berlin and other parts of the German Democratic Republic. The Board of Management made a generous amount of funding available for this purpose. The branch office and the plant in Berlin, supported by the Works Council, organized a joint project, and many employees volunteered to give it strong support. They sacrificed much of the free time they ordinarily spend preparing for their own Christmas, thus making the entire project possible.” The central element of the joint project was filling 50,000 gift bags with fruit, candy, and Mercedes fan merchandise. The gift bags were distributed on Potsdamer Platz and at the Glienicker Bridge, where new border crossing points had been hastily set up in the days after the fall of the Wall.

Back then, quite a few Daimler colleagues outside Berlin were also unexpectedly confronted by these historic events. One of these stories took place in the city of Kassel, which is located less than 50 kilometers from the former border between East and West Germany. On five weekends in November and December 1989, the workshop of the Daimler branch in Kassel repaired a total of 38 vehicles of the Trabant, Skoda, Wartburg, and Dacia brands. An “intern” article reported on this event: “The surprised customers’ questions were quickly answered by the auto mechanics who were tinkering with the East German vehicles with great enthusiasm. The Daimler branch was providing an emergency service for ‘Trabis’ in close cooperation with the local authorities. [...] Of course it was impossible to obtain all of the replacement parts that were needed, but thanks to the very skilled craftsmanship of the Mercedes employees, help was always provided.” One Trabant driver from the town of Zschornewitz in the state of Saxony-Anhalt sent a postcard thanking the branch for its unusual assistance campaign — in terminology that was new to the West Germans. His thank-you postcard was addressed to “The Supervisor, the Auto Mechanics, the Master Craftsmen, and the Reception Collective.”

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