“We don’t need anyone’s help in destroying ourselves,” says Holger Dalichow. The shipping department he oversees has become empty. A rapid drum twister for Malaysia is being packed up; spare parts for a breaking and sorting machine in Iran are ready for loading.
Half a dozen dusty and banged-up steel cable drum machines must be polished. Perhaps the customer in Russia finally has the money for the machines that have been standing around for months.
A faded red hammer-and-sickle flag on the ceiling of the shipping hall still reminds Dalichow of “the hot line to the East.” Eighty percent of Sket production once went to fellow socialist “brother” countries. Thirty-two rolling mills and thousands of machines for cable and wire rope from Magdeburg are in the former Soviet Union.
Delivery contracts for nearly three billion Marks have been signed. But most of the men who signed these contacts are no longer in office, and their successors have no hard currency to buy the machines.
The Sket workers still can’t quite believe that their biggest former customer no longer exists. “Somehow there must be a solution for the Eastern markets,” hopes the desperate head of shipping. His forty co-workers, half of the previous staff, have been on reduced working hours since last year. Many don’t even net a thousand Marks per month.
Hundreds of the younger Sket workers have already migrated to the West. “Our young generation is gone,” says Hans Ehricke, a member of the works council. The older skilled workers are about to reach early retirement.
The trained lathe operator stands solemnly in front of a gigantic Waldrich lathe turning machine. The monster, a good fifty years old, can grind faceplates of up to three meters in diameter. “Once Achim goes home,” says Ehricke, pointing to his grey-haired colleague, “no one will be able to operate it.”
“Working was more fun during GDR times,” Ehricke opines wistfully. The enterprise ran three shifts. Nobody had to worry about sales. The Thälmann workers felt like the elite of the working class. For 27 years, Ehricke stood at the lathe in the couple hundred-meter-long brick hall that dates to the previous century, just like his father before him.
The tradition of their company was a matter of pride for all of them. The company had been founded back in Biedermeier times. Later, Krupp took over the factory and had it cast barrels for Big Bertha*. The Soviets expropriated the capitalist war criminals. But even in the 1950s, the workers were still proudly calling themselves Kruppianers.
Now the only ones still working hard are the approximately 1,000 former Sket employees in the Gise (Society for Innovation, Rehabilitation, and Disposal). This employment company is tearing down nearly everything from the old days on 50 hectares of the factory site, except for the administration building. One day, a community center and a business park are supposed to materialize there. Then, what is still left of Sket a few years from now is supposed to move into new buildings in the southern part of the old factory at a cost of around 100 million Marks.
* Big Bertha or “dicke Bertha” was a 42-cm howitzer used for the first time in World War I. Berta was the name of Gustav Krupp’s wife – eds.