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The "People’s Car" on New Paths (January 29, 1948)

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The plant also has an English controller, as is customary today in many places. And from his words, one could infer that the “People’s Car,” as the Volkswagen is called in English, is on new paths. For the occupation authorities no longer wish to lay claim to the entire output of the factory, as they have done so far. Cars will finally be made available to the Germans as well, first and foremost for export. All of this will go something like this: this month, 1,100 People’s Cars will be born. Four hundred will go to the British authorities. Three hundred will be exported (it looks like people abroad, especially in Holland, are eager to drive a small car that uses only nine liters of fuel per hundred kilometers.) Three hundred cars will be allocated to German agencies; note: to “agencies.” But if one asks: “And what about the individual civilian with a driver’s license – when will it be his turn?,” a smile goes through the entire plant, a smile that is bewildered smile by such a naive question. “Buy it illegally!”

“What? Buy it illegally? From the factory?”
”Out of the question! We have always delivered to English agencies. Completely above board! At most, we have lost replacement parts, but never entire cars.”
“And where am I supposed to buy the Volkswagen illegally?”
“Not a Volkswagen, but a People’s Car, also called a Beetle! We know reliably that you can occasionally get them in Hamburg. 30,000 to 40,000 marks a piece . . .”

The guest, who just now was driving – “bonfortionös” – the brand-spanking new (albeit greenish-gray) Beetle across the factory site that stretches for a kilometer, is seized by displeasure, since he is forced to conclude, after all is said and done, that cars – even the cheapest – are used not only for driving, but also for representation. And while he thinks that the misleading name “Volkswagen” should disappear, he is not sure which new name to propose, assuming that is even allowed – “Office Car” or “Behörden-Wagen.” Well, the future will tell us what to do! And as far as renaming is concerned – the “city of the Volkswagen,” this un-German . . . robot-like name has already disappeared. “Wolfsburg” is now the name of the settlement on the other bank of the Canal – the city that, as was once heralded, would become the “most beautiful, the most modern city in the world.” Wrong! Potemkin could be the patron saint of this place, were it not for the fact that the rain long since washed away the cheap, hasty luster.

And the new confused order of things means that the city of the Volkswagen no longer has a direct relationship with the factory of the Volkswagen. That means: if the factory, for whose benefit the settlement was once erected, wants to procure housing for someone who is important to the plant, it cannot be sure that it will be able to do so. Incidentally, it is a city where no one owns a house. A city of renters. And if it is true that home ownership ruins people, it is also true that not owning them ruins homes. There is only one hopeful sign: a few Volkswagens are driving through the streets, albeit with license plates reading “test drive”! And is there a hope-filled fledgling undertaking in Germany today to which one could not affix this sign?

Source: Jan Molitor [Josef Müller-Marein], “‘People’s Car’ auf neuen Wegen” [“‘The People’s Car’ on New Paths”], Die Zeit, January 29, 1948.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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