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Privatization of a Government-Owned Bookstore (c. 1993)

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For example, when the People’s Bookstore was offered to the people for privatization: “But for all the power of my imagination, at the time, I couldn’t picture books not being sold in our store, but instead maybe mattresses or cooking pots or hamburgers, and the six of us booksellers finding no new jobs. And so I reported to the Building Office and said: ‘I’ll take out a loan and lease the bookshop!’ At the time, however, a Wessi* had already filed a claim, and I could only get a loan if he gave me a long-term lease. I mustered what little courage I had and drove my Trabi** to Cologne to see him. And a week later he really did send me a ten-year lease, and I got the loan and leased our bookshop! But after I had already spent the initial money for the renovation, he wrote me another letter. And he told me that he had other plans, that he was withdrawing his agreement. After that I had to show the house to the buyers that he sent. A Turk wanted to turn it into a döner kebab restaurant. [ . . . ]

At the time, at the height of my troubles, I really was ready for the psychiatric ward; the Building Office, which actually still owned the house despite the claim from the West, granted me an irrevocable twelve-year lease. Regardless of who buys the house.”

After the lease and loan-thriller, she assumed that the worst was over. But then came the night of April 30/May 1. “I went to bed at night as a part-time bookseller, that’s to say, I didn’t get to bed at all that night – and in the morning, on International Workers’ Day***, I got up as a businesswoman. Suddenly, I had become the boss of the five colleagues with whom I had worked for years, with whom I had gone shopping during work hours, visited the doctor, and made coffee. [ . . . ] But now it suddenly cost me money when, just as before, one of them made coffee during work hours or took too long a break. A few weeks ago, I had to tell this to one of them in no uncertain terms. I sat with her back in the office, was scolding her, until she suddenly started to cry. She cried so pitifully that I, stupid fool, suddenly had to cry, too. I, the entrepreneur!”

* The term Wessi was used to refer to West Germans, Ossi to East Germans – eds.
** Affectionate term for the automobile Trabant, which was produced in East Germany – eds.
*** In the original, it refers to the Action Day of Workers. In many countries, May 1 is celebrated as Labor Day. In Communist – and some non-Communist – countries, May 1 is an official holiday – eds.

Source: Landolf Scherzer, Der Zweite [The Second] © Aufbau Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, Berlin 1997, pp.145-47.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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