The Zwickauer Mulde River meanders sleepily down from the Erzgebirge Mountain range on the border of the Czech Republic and Germany. From there it makes its way into the small city of Zwickau. Zwickau’s population, about 100,000 strong, boasts the historical significance of a city much larger. The area is rich in mineral deposits and its mining history dates back to the 14th century. Zwickau’s real claim to fame however came in 1904 when August Horch established the Horch Automobile plant, which six years later would change its name to Audi.
The first Horch vehicles (or Audi as they would become) immediately bring to mind the Ford Model T, but the first Horch was fabricated in 1901 almost seven years prior to the Model T. At first glance the later models from Horch could be mistaken for a classic Rolls Royce with their elegant sweeping lines. The 1939 Phaeton (which Volkswagen would pay homage to with their luxury Phaeton sedan in 2002) is particularly exemplary of Horch’s brilliant design and aesthetic.
Later Zwickau would gain notoriety for a much different type of car, the Trabant. The Trabant was the state car of Eastern Europe and truly the only car available to the general populace under communist rule. The waiting list was purported to be as long as fifteen years to acquire one. These cars were tiny and although they were not mechanically or stylistically advanced they were known to run for some time. Today the Trabant has a cult following and enthusiasts modify them drastically for show.
In 2004 a new and completely redesigned Horch Museum opened its doors in Zwickau. It is a car buff’s dream. The best surviving examples of antique Audis and Horchs are housed here as well as the Trabant in in all its different incarnations. It is a must see if you are in Saxony. Arrange your car rental in Germany and be on your way to see automotive history.