Groma Kolibri

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Groma KolibriWhen you think of East Germany, or rather, the former German Democratic Republic, one might think low-grade gear stamped out under the yoke of a Soviet regime, where quotas often mattered more than quality. But, perhaps cracks formed under watchful eyes. An underground movement took root. A resistance ahead of its time. A typewriter revolution. Their mission: manufacture an ultra-thin, ultra-chic, ultra-awesome typewriter. The Groma Kolibri. A jewel in an otherwise drab landscape. It infiltrated the West in the attache cases of every foreign embassy attache.

You’ll often find the back of these typewriters stamped: USSR Occupied. Who decided to apply this label? The manufacturer as a protest gesture? Or perhaps someone in the West, as a reminder of which Germany made it, because the stamp it came with only said: Made in Germany. In hindsight it’s a curious artifact, but at the time these words mattered. And for us writers, a reminder of the difference between lightening and lightening bug. 

Regardless of your political whims, the Kolibri is a killer.

If Apple made a typewriter, it would be a Kolibri.

Mighty. Small. Seriously thin.

Now only if it were ridiculously light, then we’d call it a Modern Wonder of the Industrial Age. The body feels like inch thick forged steel that it could withstand a round from a Kalashnikov. It’s solid and stable. Plant it on your desk and it won’t defect. The keys rise out of the body to meet your fingers at just the right angle. When you type, the action is crisp and precise, there’s no sloppiness or wavering of any kind. A peek below the keys reveals why: the arms and joints are solid and substantial. They didn’t skimp anywhere on this machine. Manufacturing tolerances in typewriters are already tight, even more so on the Kolibri.

That’s probably why the carriage return lever skims the surface of the ribbon cover. If you don’t have it snapped on just right, the lever will scrape it. Almost every image I’ve seen of the Kolibri has this tell-tale signature. But get the cover positioned correctly and you’re not in danger. Still, the return lever is a short, stubby thing that’s hard to catch with your fingers. It reminds me of the Hermes Rocket, another ultra-portable with an even smaller lever. When your fingers are flying and the words are piling up, it’s the type of lever that will slow you down.

Is it good for the big project? Is this my everyday typewriter for meeting my 2,000 word quota? Probably not. But if short dispatches are your thing, or you’re looking to add an uber cool vibe to your wordplay arsenal, then the Kolibri has an undeniable charm that’s hard to resist. It doesn’t take up much space and when you take it out, it has the wow appeal that will put a smile on your face.

Or if you’re heading to the cabin, toss the Kolibri in your backpack and keep on writing! It’d be great for that vacation journal you always intended to write. Or if you really want to make a fuss, take it on your next flight and see what TSA makes of it! And when you get airborne, if that rude person in front of you jacks their seat into your lap, just whip out the Kolibri, put it on the tray and bang out some stuff, putting a little extra jab into each key. Ha. Take that! Well, maybe not, us writers usually don’t like to call attention to ourselves. But knowing you have the Kolibri in the overhead, just in case, will make you happy. It’ll also make your muse happy. 


  1. Is this the machine used in the movie The lives of Others by the dissident playwright who has to smuggle copy to the west in typed form?

    1. Thank you. Lovely right on review. Learned some new facts I don’t know. Loved the TSA comment, the whole thing, hilarious. Just got a Kolibri in great condition. Thanks for the explanation as to how to avoid damaging the top cover by having it sit proper.

  2. It sure looks like it! I’ve not seen the movie, but if you do a Google image search, it shows a Kolibri with the cover removed. Probably because that darn return lever scrapes it! Ha.

    1. When you type with the princess, you’re in a sense typing with a bigger portable in mind eventhough its small and compact. The keys are a bit tougher to press but then again, the clutch of a Porsche is uniquely different than that of any other manual car out there… just saying.

  3. I like the Kolibri very much, but I prefer the Lettera 22 (don’t know why) and of course the modern Traveller de Luxe (I know why).

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  5. I found the Kolibri to be built like a swiss watch. Everything worked without problems. Heavy little dude, though.
    The drawbacks I have are not Kolibri-related, but mainly Europe-related:
    (1) the platen is not wide enough to insert a standard American #10 envelope. Bah. You *can* squeeze in a #9, though.
    (2) the size of the typeface is a delicate 12.7 (?) characters per inch, so it isn’t American standard Pica (10 cpi) nor Elite (12 cpi).
    (3) the platen roller has a relatively small diameter (no big surprise there), but it can make it a challenge to insert more than three sheets of paper or a sheet of card stock, like a manila folder. Even two sheets and a carbon do not slide in willingly.

    The ribbon comes on a readily-available spool, and the lettering in mine, although hummingbird-tiny, was far more crisp and clear than I had expected.
    Avocado green, mine was. If I close my eyes and daydream, I can hear the keys tick-tick-ticking.

  6. Great review. I have a Splendid 33 and a 66, but I would gladly give them both away for the Groma. I have only seen one for sale once, and it slipped through my greedy fingers when I tried to haggle… Next time I’ll just through my life savings at the seller and be happy:-)

    1. Check out many of the Etsy typewriter sites, there are plenty of Kolibris (German for Hummingbird) available, but you might have to shell out $300 or more for one in excellent shape. I collect them, as they are durable, compact workhorses that deliver incredible typing pleasure. Great design, save for the telltale carriage return scrapes…..

      1. Is there a difference in value depending on what model number of the Groma Kolibri typewriters? I have a model K but cannot find much out about it. Thank you.

  7. I had a Kolibri for two years and ultimately went back to my Olympia SF. The Olympia SF is simply an awesome workhorse of a typewriter. It goes and goes…the Kolibri is just too small and not as tough. Even though the Groma is more attractive than my Oly SF, I still really like the look of the Oly…there is something very cool about it in a whole different way.

  8. I have two Kolibri’s, built one day apart from one another. Found on opposites sides of the Earth from one another. Both the ‘maroon red’, if you will. One was found uncovered in a burnt out building in St. Petersburg Russia, 1997. The other, in its case, in a bedroom closet of an abandoned home in St. Johnsbury Vermont, 2018.
    I’ve been (with permission) rummaging through burnt out or degraded industrial/office buildings and abandoned homes for 35 years now. I spent two years refurbishing the Kolibri found in Russia and the one from Vermont is pristine.
    I still have them both, still use them both. One is at my cabin, the other, sitting right here next to my MacBook.
    They’re both Qwerty’s and absolutely delicious.

  9. I was the caretaker of a Kolibri for only a short while. Avocaddo-green, American keyboard. I absolutely loved the delicate precision of the machine, but had to pass it on to another owner.
    It was too attuned to European use, with a non-Pica and non-Elite typeface, and a platen that is a smidge too narrow for a standard American #10 envelope. :- (

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