Against All Oddities: Wake me up when we get there!

Matthew Anderson

Matthew Anderson is an American engineer who relocated to Germany a few years ago for work. In his spare time, with reckless abandon, he pursues a baffling obsession with unexceptional Eastern Bloc cars. We don’t ask him too many follow-up questions. –EW

I’ll spare you the suspense. The Hobby 600 and Moskvich 407 are both safely, shockingly home with me in the Carolinas. We all made it back to America, safe and sound. The completion of this logistical nightmare, however, coming right on the tail end of three care-free months living in the camper all over Europe, may have been the most stressful few weeks of my life.

It was also magical. Surreal, really.

This is not a Windows desktop background. Matthew Anderson

As we pulled into our final stop, at the Weissensee nature park in the Austrian Alps, dreamlike beauty surrounded us. A lake with drinkable water the color of a mentholyptus cough drop. Sunshowers. Log cabins for indoor beer drinking. What a way to end our adventure! And then, a sign from the heavens: A framed picture hung in the lobby, depicting a Snow Queen Silver Lada 2111, like some Russian pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I would venture to say there is a very good chance this is the previous life of my Vienna-registered parts car from a past adventure. Bizarre is an understatement! 

What the what? Matthew Anderson

Once finally back in Marbach am Neckar, our sleepy village in the southwest German hills, we had a mountain of work to tackle. Our scheduled jet to America was a mere three days away. Upon arriving home, we were greeted by the Ukrainian family we were hosting. They became like family to us, and it was great to reunite with them. And oh, the comforts of a real house! Running water! A kitchen where two people can concurrently cook without wanting to murder each other! Hot showers!

The unpacking begins. Matthew Anderson

First step: unloading six large boxes from the camper van, full of travel goods and spare parts that we planned to (expensively) ship back to North Carolina. You may recall that the Moskvich had already been prepared, shipped, and dropped off—a process that included enlisting my German neighbors to make sure it was running by periodically firing it up (and pissing off the whole street) in my absence.

Tougher than all these logistical hurdles was saying goodbye to as many friends as possible. We forged meaningful relationships over the past three years, and it felt somehow reductive to stuff so many farewells into a couple of days. One last, hearty Ukrainian meal left us feeling warm and fuzzy before we left Germany behind.

Brake drums put me way over the 22-kg shipping limit. But hidden in the camper … Matthew Anderson

Munich was our departure port. That meant leaving from Stuttgart with a rented Citroën SUV full of four suitcases, plus a crated dog and cat. Four hundred yards down the hill from home, the cat decided to evacuate his bowels. The ABS juddered as I gagged. Forced to return back up the hill, we repacked and cleaned the rental. Somehow, we made it to the parking garage at the Munich hotel before he did it again. 

All seemed promising until the cat … um … yeah. Matthew Anderson

We made it back to America without further incident. At 2:48 a.m., on a Monday morning a few days later, my phone rings. Arina, the 21-year old daughter of our Ukrainian refugee family, who had agreed to facilitate the Moskvich key handover for shipping. She and the Romanian driver didn’t really speak any common languages, which meant general confusion. “Something, something … tax office, unpaid duties, and missing customs paperwork.”

My groggy brain was not equipped to decipher this puzzle, but I didn’t really have a choice. After several calls, to three different countries, I managed to sort the customs paperwork issue … with one exception: the Romanian driver would have to bring both the Moskvich and the Hobby 600 van to the local tax office for inspection.


From afar, at four in the morning, I had to watch via photo and video as my two dear projects were loaded onto a rig that I could not fathom was legal. Then again, I was beyond caring about anything other than going back to sleep. Several hours later, I awoke to a stream of text messages informing me of this insane procedure’s success. 

Loading situation in front of the tax office. Horrifying. Matthew Anderson

About four weeks and one hundred refreshes of vessel tracking websites later, the cars had finally landed at Port of Charleston. Prior to living in Germany, Charleston was my home. And you know what they say: home is where the port is.

A scant three quarters of a mile separates my Charleston house’s garage from the RoRo docks, a prime feature of the property I now rent to tenants. My lady and I trekked down there in our new-to-us 2003 Ford Taurus (more on that in a future story), delaminating a tire along the way. Upon arriving at the docks, my wife turned around and headed to the house so she could prepare our garage (and tenants) for the madness to come. Meanwhile, I was ushered in by the friendly-yet-forever-on-lunch-break port workers, who managed to get to work with minimal prodding. They located both the Hobby 600 Wohnmobil and the Moskvich in an impressive 45 minutes.

I requested that we process the camper can first, as I knew it would start. Minutes later, it motored happily out of the the port complex. Let me tell you: Driving your new-old camper van/travel home in your old hometown? Beyond bizarre.

The Womo has landed, America. Matthew Anderson

The process of starting the Moskvich was a huge wild card. I briefed the workers in no uncertain terms:

“It’s very important all of the necessary paperwork is complete before I start this old heap. I don’t mean to be rude to y’all, nor to the nice woman at the access gate, but once this thing fires up, I’m not stopping for anything. Is that understood?” 

Bewildered nods. 

Good enough.

A few cranks in, my Soviet survivor reluctantly lit off. In a flurry of smoke and waves and shouts, I put the port in my wake.

The facility’s exit road dumps right out of to Morrison Avenue, a main thoroughfare on the downtown Charleston peninsula. Because I’m a lucky guy, I pulled the Moskie—with its 1958-issue DDR license plate, right out into traffic … directly in front of a cop. I played it cool, trying not to make any sudden movements while also flooring the thing just to keep up with traffic. Amid this mayhem, I realized that this was the Moskvich’s first drive on a public road since 1968! Suddenly I was just enjoying the sheer nonsense of banging through Soviet-era column-shifted gears, in downtown Charleston, on a beautiful Friday afternoon, with my foot planted solidly to the floor. For reasons I will never understand, the officer lost interest and went left on King Street, where I turned right. A right and a left later, I was home, puttering up my driveway and into the garage.

Was this real life?

Pinch me? Matthew Anderson

With the Moskvich in the garage, it was starting to feel things were falling into place. I snagged a couple of boxes full of Holden parts from the garage attic (more on that later, too). My wife and I went in search of tires to put on the Taurus, before meeting up with some old friends in the neighborhood for a bite to eat. What a wild ride. The whole thing. All of it. The European chapter of our lives was officially closed, but my weird spacevan camper and crusty East German commuter remain beloved reminders of a whirlwind ride. 

Now don’t worry, dear reader. Knowing me, this just the eye of the storm. Against all Oddities will be kicking up fresh dirt in no time.

Straight into the jungle…er…garage. Matthew Anderson


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    Does a car have to be insured to drive it on a public road in North Carolina? Or have a valid registration in a country that still exists? Hundreds (well, dozens, at least) want to know!

    Good question. Insurance, yes. Upon picking up from the port, both cars still had current German (yet valid here) insurance and registration…so they were technically legal. The camper is still running its German plate and the Moski wears its DDR plate BUT there is a current German tag under the seat for good measure. Now the Moski is on Hagerty and the camper on dedicated RV insurance. I’ve never had issues driving on foreign plates so long as the vehicles are legally registered SOMEWHERE. My plan is to make everything NC legal and registered by this time next year.

    Matthew, I’ve followed your story from beginning to end and found it extremely entertaining! I think it’s fantastic that you have such interest and passion in that old Russian Mosky to drag it half way around the world and jump through a bunch of hoops just to get it back here!
    That’s true enthusiasm and one of the things that makes the auto community so interesting and enjoyable, something for everyone. Good on ya’.

    It will be interesting to see how the licensing and registration goes in North Carolina. There were probably not a lot of Moskvitches ever registered here, but with luck the make at least might be in the DMV system somewhere. The presence of military bases and facilities in the Carolinas increases the odds that someone else once brought home a Moskie.

    As far as I know, there are no Moskis in North Carolina. I only know of one in Texas (sent here when new) and one in Ohio. I’m not too worried though. I have the first Holden in North Carolina and it wasn’t difficult to add that to the system.

    What is the center picture on the dash, to the right of the two lady portraits??? I can’t make it out. Really like that dash though with the portraits! Very original.

    Those are actually pinup stickers that were available across the Soviet block and East Germany. There is also a large East German children’s propaganda character in the center of the dash. None of those are going anywhere!

    For some great shots of that Moskvitch when it was still new-ish, check out the hilarious 1961 Billy Wilder movie “One… Two… Three”. Much action across the east/west German border; ironic as the wall was likely up by the time the movie was released.

    As I recall, the wall went up during the making of One…Two…Three. I read somewhere that they had to rig-up a Brandenburg Gate look-alike in Munich (just the lower 10 feet or so) to finish the film since the original in Berlin was blocked part way through filming. Great movie; one of my faves. I spent over 2 years in Berlin in the mid 70’s in the Army, so I know the city well.

    I just read that on Apparently, the movie didn’t play well since most of the plot became irrelevant in the dark, early-wall days and the movie flopped when released. Still hilarious, though, and easier to deal with in historical context.

    It’s pretty zany, very fast-paced, yet very smart, witty and satirical. Endless supply of James Cagney easter eggs.

    It’s funny about differing tastes. I think the Moskvich is CUTE! But my husband says it’s ugly. Go figure.

    What a story! (from the beginning!…)

    I’ve not imported vehicles from another country but have brought vehicles from WV to NC…

    And in a truly surreal twist, my Dad’s 1973 Dodge Monaco station wagon (huge and YELLOW!) was sold after he passed (I didn’t have the time or space to restore it) to a fellow in California who was going to restore it, then sold it to someone else who restored it, then he needed money so it was up on eBay where it didn’t sell but an interested buyer bought it privately and shipped it to France! (of course, it’s a Monaco!)

    So the Big Banana is now cruising the Pyrenees (from the Appalachians!)

    Your (mis)adventures are an entertaining read!
    Welcome back!

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