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Leipzig: Town of economic progress and social divide

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Franz Strasser | 09:25 UK time, Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The next stop on my journey is Leipzig, the cultural and economic centre of the region. I wanted to see whether the city was able to adapt to a new economic environment - and if so, at what cost.

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Have you been to Leipzig and what has been your impression? Keep those comments coming.


  • Comment number 1.

    I find your blog very interesting. Besides this trip being your personal journey back to your native East Germany, is their anything in particular you are trying to highlight? Personally, I wouldn't mind more interviews with citizens on how they perceive their current life, their views on legislation affecting Eastern Germany, comparison of living in the former East Germany and modern Germany, their views on Western Germany, and lastly, in what direction the East Germans want to take themselves. Even if this blog is purely more of a 'spiritual journey back to the homeland', I still find it very enjoyable, and I look forward towards future posts.

  • Comment number 2.

    I am from Leipzig but moved away 15 years ago. The irony of my personal history is that it never crossed my mind to leave East Germany before 1989. Afterwards, I soon realised that there won't be a future for me there. I decided to settle in Britain and am grateful that this country has given me a better chance than a new unified Germany that felt strange and foreign to me in the early 1990s. I still come back to Leipzig regularly and have seen a lot of changes over the years, mostly for the better. It is a lively, modern city which has a lot to offer. But visiting as a tourist and trying to build an everyday life are two different things. This city is where my roots are, my home is now elsewhere.

  • Comment number 3.

    Hallo Franz,
    I'm very pleased to have come across your blog - my wife is East German (aus Berlin) so I have a keen interest in this topic. The continuing differences in pay between East and West workers is a subject she's mentioned often, due to the peculiarities of Berlin - you get the East or West tariff depending on where your place of work is located. This leads to some strange situations - for example, government workers relocated fom Bonn to Berlin, working in what was East Berlin, continue to get their West salaries. By contrast people newly employed in the same office, sometimes for identical jobs, are paid the East tariff, which means you could be paid substantially less than the person you sit next to purely due to the fact of the office's location. Needless to say this isn't very popular. I find it surprising that these inequalities still exist 20 years after reunification. Do you have an opinion about this? Are you planning to visit Berlin?

  • Comment number 4.

    I have worked in Germany and was in Leipzig for a conference recently and found the town centre completely delightful and on par to Western Germany. However, just a few minutes from the centre and I saw a rural countryside very much in stark contrast. People said unemployment was very high and they needed every investment possible, but I found the population optimistic and extremely positive. All in all, I do find Germany is a country of two halves, but both good halves.

  • Comment number 5.

    Hello Franz,

    Great blog so far and I like the concept of comparison between West & East. Have been a frequent visitor to Germany, but have to say have only visited Berlin and Potsdam in what was the old East. I take it you will be spending November 9th in Altenburg or Berlin...not one to miss being the 20th anniversary. Look forward to your next post with interest!!

  • Comment number 6.

    Thanks everybody for sharing your stories.

    @paulgeerligs: I will try my best and thanks for following.

    @Zweitaktmotor: Great story and a good example. My parents also never thought about leaving the East, they just wanted to be able to travel and see the world. It is absolutely amazing to experience the change in those cities if you only ever visit every year or so, but like you said, the beautiful town centres do not always show the full picture.

    @gilesmc: Interesting comment, thanks so much. I lived in Berlin for four years and to this day am amazed by how little rent I paid in the German capital, especially compared to cities like Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt, etc. It is often used as argument: You are paid less, but you also have to spend less living in the East. It's a fact, but it's hard to argue when the one sitting next to your desk makes more. I will be in Berlin on 9 Nov.

  • Comment number 7.

    One of the people you interviewed said he lived off benefits governed by Hartz IV, a reform that when enacted was very unpopular (because it reduced the amount of the benefit and made it harder to obtain): what is the sentiment towards it now?

  • Comment number 8.

    Hej Franz, your blog is very professional and interesting. You are on the road to Germany with your camera and produce and cut your clips in the hotelrooms between Altenburg and Berlin. You are a master of his trade - just in time. I´m looking forward to your next post with great interests !! Whats your plan in Berlin on 11/09 ? Which Cities you will visit in Eastern Germany?

  • Comment number 9.

    Many years ago in the early 1970's I was in the US military stationed in Turkey. Myself and three other GI's took a 30 day leave and toured Europe. We made a stop in Berlin and met another GI doing the same and pooled resources and rented a VW Bus to tour in. We went to go into E.Germany and were stopped at the border and told no VW's allowed into the area. We started to argue with the guard who then demanded our passports. When we produced them he looked at the one that our new friend gave him and then grumbled and waved us through. It seemed he was a Embassy employee and they could not stop him. We drove then to Leipzig and stayed in a small hotel. We washed up and went down stairs to find something to eat and drink. There was a small cafe in the place as well as they served beer. It was quiet and what people were in there were not talking except in hushed form. In the corner was a piano. My friend started to play some honky tonk type music and soon a accordion came out, and a fiddle and the place started to become alive with song and laughter. Then some man in a suit came into the place and every German there suddenly stopped playing & talking and went to their seats and sat silently. KGB was whispered. After he left about an hour later. We ordered a round of drinks. The bartender/owner refused to except any money for them and when asked why, he simply said..."because you are free and I am not my friend" He explained that we had brought life back into the place. What an experience we had...Now retired I will some day soon return and hope to find that same place and see if the man is still living, And buy him a round of drinks.

  • Comment number 10.

    Franz; Very good idea for a blog, glad I found it.

    It would be interesting to see how some of the skilled workforce at some of the former, large GDR companies fared, and what they are doing today. Take SKET (Schwermaschinenbau Kombinat Ernst Thaelmann) in Magdeburg as an example. Many of the folks there were highly competent in COMICON terms, but then when the "Planned Economy" was dismantled, and they had to compete in an "open" global economy, they really did not know how, and maybe were not able to make the adjustments. I believe that the Treuhandanstalt closed many of these big factories and businesses after trying to "privatize" them... What became of the industrial skills base... Did many of the workers make the transition, and build up smaller, private Maschinenbau businesses which have been, for long time, the driver of German wealth... after the WWII in the West anyways.

    Will you be doing a segment on this topic?

    regards cdngeonews

  • Comment number 11.

    Hey Franz,
    I've been reading your blog, and I find it really interesting! As a child/teenager I'd never even heard of the DDR, Germany to me had always been one country. My experiences were similar to one of the musicians interviewed in Leipzig - here in England we learn a lot about Nazi Germany during secondary school (perhaps even more than british history). It was only through my A-level German course that I came to hear of the reunification, and even then we didn't cover anything of the former DDR. Since then I've had the opportunity to visit Germany quite a few times, through friends and my university course, and found out much first hand.
    My friends in the east don't seem to think of themselves as Ossis - just as German. This isn't quite so true for my western German friends. Wessi and Ossi jokes only come in one direction! In regards to things less superficial, the comments by the Pastor from Altenburg matched up with my experiences. Whilst I still am not great at picking up the different german accents, I have realised that people from the east tend to be more reserved, and a little more to the point - lol, a bit more like the english perhaps! This seems to have carried on into my post-reunification generation.
    I've lived for short periods in Leipzig and Dresden and loved them both. Generally I found them nicer places than other western cities I've visited - I guess the modernised infrastructure, undercrowding, cheap rent(!), and large parks added to this. One of the things I wasn't so fond of (although England is the same), is that East Germany seems to have far more large scale/out of town shopping complexes, whereas in the west there seem to be many more small family businesses in the town centres/local neighbourhoods. I'm not sure whether this was a means of trying to draw more businesses in, or just a huge initial influx into a market formerly naive to capitalism. Perhaps lower wages might also be a factor? Shop prices in the city centres didn't seem to be lower that the west...
    Having the advantage of a recession proof occupation, I'm hoping to move to East Germany upon graduation from medical school. Whilst many of my german friends in the east (some originally from the west) are hoping to stay in the neuen Bundeslaender upon graduation, the majority are concerned about the job situation. I've heard them say there are some possibilities in Leipzig, Dresden and Berlin, however very hard outside of that.

  • Comment number 12.

    I completed my PhD in the last years at University of Leipzig (before returning to UK) and love the place. A lot of pristine nature. Have a look at the large bill board just near AltMessegelande (next to the MaxPlanck institute) that is dated ~1990 with a tag-line "Leipzig kommt". I saw this poster as recently as Dec last year.

  • Comment number 13.

    Franz: I just stumbled across your blog and I'll have to keep following it. I look forward to hearing more about the subject of East/West in Germany and how things are going after 20 years on.

    It was nice to hear the opinions of the next generation of kids. I attended school in Leipzig in 93/94 and that wasn't the prevailing opinion amongst students I knew then. Coming from Canada at the time, I knew little of the unification process and it's impacts but found out first hand some of the issues. I remember thinking at the time it would take a generation change for true unification to be achieved. It's disappointing to hear that wage differences still exist and that unemployment remains high. However, Leipzig is a great city with great people. I look forward to getting back there someday.

    Mein Leipzig lob ich mir.

  • Comment number 14.

    Thanks for the comments everybody and for adding to the conversation.

    @sashmill: I can't speak about the overall sentiment in the public,
    but Hartz IV remains in the news almost daily. Just this Thursday,
    Chancellor Merkel said that Hartz IV recipients could receive coupons
    instead of cash as child support. Others say that is discriminating
    against poor families.

    @oldfoxbob: What a great story! I hope you can find this man and let
    me know if I can help in any way.

    @cdngeonews: I have one of those workers in my family and I can tell
    you that it was very hard for them to adjust. Most of the time they
    ended up with jobs far below their qualifications.

  • Comment number 15. one of your inteviewees said, it is "live" history, not texts or second-hand opinions...great stuff Franz, this is what real journalism should be all about

  • Comment number 16.

    Re oldfoxbob's story...... if the landlord of your DDR pub is as lucky as the Landlord of the pub I fequented in 1980, he will be a multi-millionaire now! When I went back to the pub in 1999 the landlord had apparently been sought out by solicitors from Berlin who broke the news that prime property in the centre of Berlin once owned by his family, and which was taken by the DDR government after WW2, was up for sale and he was the recipient of the proceedings! He moved to Florida by all accounts!

  • Comment number 17.

    Franz: Thanks for the information and the progression in Leipzig in the past 20 years....

    =Dennis Junior=


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