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Voices from the Province (August 4, 1990)

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The once omnipresent SED propaganda is now a matter for those who track contemporary history. But gone, too, is the black-red-gold exuberance of “Germany, united Fatherland,” of the winter and spring [1989-90], when the national flag was flown without the GDR emblem on many houses between Eisenach and Leipzig. The workaday and morning-after feelings have set in. Now the emotions, anxieties, and sense of self of Germans in the GDR are tied to a sense of belonging to a particular region. “They” in East Berlin should have established Länder a long time ago, one keeps hearing. Before this comes to pass and the Volkskammer decree on the reestablishment of the Länder takes effect with the Landtag elections in October, many people have resorted to self-help. In Mühlberg, a village in the foothills of the Thuringian forest, residents have made good on their somewhat peculiar reputation among their neighbors. The “Mühlberg Halblangen,” who are proud of living in one of Thuringia’s oldest villages, rushed ahead of everyone else and banished the memory of a step so commonly taken by German dictators – the breaking up of the German Länder – from their village sign. “The district of Erfurt” has been neatly painted over and replaced with “Land Thuringia.” The same can be seen in other villages.

On the road from Halle to Mühlhausen, the Thuringians, who in 1952 became part of the district of Halle against their will, and thus part of Saxony-Anhalt, proclaim on their town signs: “We are Thuringians.” One doesn’t know what the Russian officers who are leading a column of tankers across the road think of this. Are they thinking about the dissolution of the Soviet Union into its peoples and tribes? A man from Halle gets out of his car at every forced stop and clenches his fists. This, too, would have been unthinkable “back then.”

At the waysides along endless fields of golden meadows one feels little of the ecological catastrophe of the GDR. There’s more than just Buna and Bitterfeld, Aue and Greifswald. In Erfurt, loving “reconstruction” and dilapidation are still cheek by jowl, but the signs of rebuilding are multiplying. Two old houses display the coat of arms of Rhineland-Palatinate, which is doing the restoration here, reminding one of the old saying: “Erfurt and Mainz are one.” The Erfurt countryside is abloom with yellow parsley fern, white common yarrow and cranesbill in blue and pink, and an abundance of chicory and knapweed. On the way to Bad Frankenhausen, we stop in the village of Ringsleben and are happy that time is standing still. On one house there are again – or still – two proud storks.

Source: Helmut Herles, “Thüringen erinnert mich an die Toskana” [“Thuringia reminds me of Tuscany”], Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, August 4, 1990.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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