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Pink_VW_Beetle_(2490867150)One of the icons of postwar car culture got its start before the war.

The Beetle was born in 1938 as the KdF Wagen, designed by Ferdinand Porsche and built by the new Volkswagen auto works in what became the city of Wolfsburg. It was supposed to be a car anyone could afford. Even the working class could — supposedly — afford the 990 Reichsmark (about $4,000) price tag. If they saved up. Anyone itching for the snazzy little car filled special coupon booklets with stamps that showed they’d deposited a minimum of 5 marks a week toward the future car.

By the way, Kraft durch Freude (KdF) was a Nazi organization that brought leisure activities to a broad mass of Germans. It’s perhaps best known for its organized holidays that made vacation possible for some Germans for the first time.

But when Germany started World War 2, there was no time for leisure. And no room at the Volkswagen factory to produce civilian cars. The KdF Wagen was transformed into a military vehicle of various designs.

Few cars ever reached the 350,000 people who saved up for one. By the end of the war, the Reichsmark had collapsed. The savings were all but worthless. The Germans who tried to get their money back saw only a tiny part of their investment returned in cash. They got a somewhat larger discount if they bought a new Volkswagen Beetle. Production started up again in 1946, and the new Beetle would become one of the symbols of the German Wirtschaftswunder.

*Photo: Pink Volkswagen Beetle by dave_7 via http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en, Wikimedia Commons

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