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Voices from the Province (August 4, 1990)

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Handwritten signs are posted in front of the Autobahn rest stops between Eisenach and Weimar: “Thuringian sausage here.” A young girl has brought a grill from home. The market economy starts small. A fat man from Eschwege in Hesse stands in the market of the northern Thuringian town of Mühlhausen, railing against the supposedly lazy “GDRers”: “Why the hell didn’t you put water in the pot again?” By the sweat of his brow, he’s selling (Thuringian) broiled sausages for 2 Marks. Across the street at the HO Hotel – and this, too, would have been unthinkable only yesterday – a young girl is offering the same sausages for 1.6 Marks. But competition is not – yet – stimulating business. Most people are buying from the West German guy – for now. Although Thuringians and Saxons, like almost everyone else in the GDR, feel insecure about price increases and job losses, they are still immune to this PDS campaign. They know who’s responsible for this wreck. Some are behaving in a way that would make Ludwig Erhard smile. At the market in Mühlhausen – just a few months ago there weren’t nearly as many markets in the GDR – a woman stands in front of bountiful baskets of bread and rolls that had just been delivered from a baker in Hesse. She asks how much for these rolls and how much for those. These are 20 Pfennigs, those 40. She chooses the 20-Pfennig rolls. After July 1,* some vendors started off with inflated prices. Although prices still haven’t dropped to the old state-subsidized GDR level, they have come down to the West German level and down even further to a level appropriate for the lower incomes in Thuringia and Saxony. Genuine Nordhäuser “Goldkorn”** can now be had for the odd price of 14.68 Deutschmarks instead of the 24 GDR Marks that it used to cost.

Ulla Heise, one of those people who used to make sure that everyone in Leipzig brought someone else along to the next demonstration, says: “I haven’t bought any bread since July 2nd. As long as it’s three times more expensive than in the West, I’ll live off Knäckebrot. By now it’s as cheap here as it is for you.” For all the anger over price gouging and all the disillusionments of daily life in the period after the euphoria, she and her friends have never forgotten what they’ve achieved. Leipzigers applaud when a West German on stage at the “Pfeffermühle” cabaret thanks them for that he fact that he had just crossed from Hesse to Thuringia at Herleshausen “free of controls,” just as though he had driven from Hesse to Bavaria. Yesterday’s revolutionaries don’t want to let go. Ulla Heise and her friends are publishing “Nachgeschaut,” a kind of documentation of Stasi omnipresence, with Forum Publishing House in Leipzig. They know where the Stasi once sat, from the coffee house to the university. Since smoke pours from some of Leipzig’s supply shafts during these dog days of summer, the word on the street is: the Stasi’s still sitting there.

In Leipzig, too, West Germans are omnipresent. A flashy black car is parked in front of the Hotel Astoria. With the bumper sticker “IBV,” it is advertising “career success” and luring people to the hotel on a Sunday between 2 and 5 in the afternoon. The blurbs don’t provide details. “Success facilitates a higher standard of living through better income – and this is precisely what we want to offer you. At first, you can start by making your own schedule and working for us part time. With six hours of work a week, it is entirely possible for you to earn an additional income of 300 Deutschmarks.” The person who wrote this admits that it made some critical people skeptical, for good reason. “But these are exactly the people we envision as our future coworkers: committed, critical, self-confident.” Supposedly, this wasn’t about the “quick buck.” It didn’t say what it was about. We ask back in the West.

“I” stands for Immobilien [real estate], “B” for Bausparen [building and loan associations], “V” for Versicherung [insurance]. They’re looking for sales agents, then, and are supposedly happy with the response. The message on the shiny red background has a similar gold-digging ring to it: “I’m doing fine.” It says that a successful life has “certain characteristics: contentment, fulfilled wishes, and money too!” Someone else is advertising another undefined “supplemental job for gainfully employed individuals between 20 and 35,” with which one can achieve “something extraordinary.” An inquiry reveals that “FMGH” is the advertiser, a “Society for the Promotion of Medium-Term Investment.” My friend in Leipzig asks whether this is what the free market economy is all about, “with swindlers, touts, and con men.”

* July 1, 1990, was the date on which the currency union took effect, bringing the Deutschmark to the territory of the former GDR – eds.
** A well-known local spirit made of grain – eds.

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