East German dictator's fleet of nearly new stretch limousines go under hammer

Seven Volvo stretch limousines once used by former Communist East Germany's politburo are up for auction at a fraction of their original price after being left virtually untouched for 13 years.

The Prussian blue cars used by Erich Honecker, a former Communist leader, are available on the Net at a starting price of €80,000 (£124,000) for the whole fleet. "The cars are a piece of German history," said Holger Emmerich, a Hamburg businessman who organised the auction.

"We've had Italian, Czech and Bulgarian private collectors calling, but I'd prefer it if a museum bought them and put them on show to the public. The Volvos were ordered from Sweden only five years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Driving capitalist West German Mercedes was ideologically "verboten". The limousines were part of a huge fleet that included a Range Rover and a Soviet Zil limousine that ferried Mikhail Gorbachev about on a visit to East Berlin weeks before Mr Honecker was toppled from power in 1989. Mr Honecker was only once able to show the vehicles off to his wealthy capitalist neighbours in 1987, during his first and only visit to West Germany. After unification the cars were bought by Hilfried Schoenberger, an eccentric west German millionaire, for about €125,000.

In 1993, as a joke, he toured the former East Germany in the cars with an actor posing as Mr Honecker. Some people were so moved that they wept, recalled Mr Emmerich. Mr Schoenberger died shortly after and the Volvos were at his home in Lower Saxony, until the auction began last month.

The cars bear original number plates and state flags. They also have heated mirrors and electric-powered windows. "For all their swank, the interior of the limousines are as proletarian as Mr Honecker himself," said Der Spiegel magazine.