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Voices from the Province (August 4, 1990)

In the following travel report, a West German journalist describes some of the first steps taken in the introduction of the market economy in the GDR. He also discusses the role that West German visitors and businesspeople played in that process. Additionally, he describes GDR citizens’ new freedom to travel and the reemergence of a spirit of regional consciousness – signs of how profoundly the GDR had changed within only a few months.

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“Thuringia reminds me of Tuscany”
A summertime trip through the GDR / What’s changed; what people are saying / There’s a lot of talk about money

“Where exactly is ‘near Weimar in the country?’” The traveler to Thuringia and Saxony didn’t want to stay in one of the former Stasi* – and now rip-off – hotels. So he asked his Erfurt colleague about these approximate directions to the place where he’d be spending the first of his planned overnights in Thuringia. Some people in the GDR still speak and write in this vague way because they don’t know what’s what. The old dictatorship and military authoritarianism in the state and the economy have been defeated but not eliminated.

“Near Weimar in the country” turned out to be the former forester’s lodge of the duke; today it belongs to the LPG** of Ettersburg. Two or three of the neighboring families that own the cooperative spend their summer vacations there. The majority of the rooms are rented out – cheaply, by Western standards. Ettersberg was once the hunting preserve of the sovereign lords of Weimar. But Ettersberg also harbors Buchenwald, with its twofold guilt. First, concentration camp inmates died there because of the Nazi dictatorship. After the liberation, the red “liberators” continued to run the camp for a while. Once again, the word in Thuringia was: “Be careful, or you’ll end up in Buchenwald.” Buchenwald’s proximity to Weimar and to the villages in its vicinity refutes the myth of both the brown and the red years: “We didn’t know anything.”

On this hot summer day, this is on the minds of only the fewest guests at the “Goldenes Hufeisen” [“Golden Horseshoe”] in Ramsla, a private guesthouse near Ettersburg that survived the eras of expropriation and, therefore, is now the first of its kind to flourish. West Germans and Weimarians meet there. At the next table someone from Weimar is talking big, greeting all the guests as though he were the boss. Afterwards, the innkeeper cuts the big-mouth down to size: “He has a textile business and was supposed to get four bathrobes for a church retreat.” He promised, but they’re still waiting for the robes today. That guesthouse is the antitype of the earlier HO restaurants,*** where strict but lazy head waiters practiced a particular dictatorship of the proletariat by seating people wherever they pleased. The only large table in the barnyard was already occupied, but the wish of [some of] the guests, who had driven up in cars with West German plates, was enough for tables and chairs to be immediately moved from other rooms and set up outside. Afterwards, a friend in Leipzig remarks: “Until very recently that would have been unthinkable here.” A young woman “from the West” who has just traveled through Thuringia’s golden meadows says: “Thuringia reminds me of Tuscany.”

* Stasi was the commonly used abbreviation for the Ministry of State Security – eds.
** Acronym for Landwirtschaftliche Produktionsgenossenschaft, a term for large, collectivized farms in the former GDR – eds.
*** State-owned HOs (Handelsorganisationen or trade organizations) were established in 1948. They included grocery shops, restaurants, department stores, hotels, and industrial goods stores – eds.

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