When Busts of Lenin were tossed into the Trash
Unification has yet to come / A Wessi in Magdeburg takes Stock after Three Years / Insurance Company resides in Thälmann House
When Klaus Blume went to Magdeburg in the summer of 1990 to establish the Magdeburg regional office of the German Press Agency (dpa), the transition from the GDR to German unification was in full swing. On November 1, 1993, Blume will move to Mexico City as a foreign correspondent for dpa. After three years in East Germany, he is taking stock [of his experience there] for HORIZONT.*
Lenin’s days in the “Thälmann House” were numbered, as were those of the Republic. The writings of the Russian revolutionary were stacked in the hallways of the gloomy granite building. During the GDR’s final summer, they were in as little demand as the flags of the erstwhile sister parties and mass organizations piled in heaps in the basement. In the former power center of the district of Magdeburg, the departing landlord, the SED’s successor party, the PDS, was practicing capitalism by firing excess employees and renting offices to private companies. Because it proved absolutely impossible to find another space in a hurry, in July 1990, the German Press Agency (dpa) also moved into Gerhart Hauptmann Strasse 16, an address that, as the seat of the district leadership of the Magdeburg SED, remained widely feared until the Wende. I began my work as a correspondent in Magdeburg on the third floor of the Thälmann House at a time when it was nearly impossible to make a daytime phone call from the East to the West. The Trabi** was still the most common car on the streets, and the Deutschmark had just replaced the “Alu-Chips.”*** People used the new currency to go shopping in Helmstedt or Braunschweig.
By now, there’s also good shopping to be had in and around Magdeburg; Hamburg is as easy to reach by phone as Leipzig or Berlin, and after the PDS moved out, a large German insurance company took up residence in the Thälmann House some time ago. I’ve been living as a Wessi in Magdeburg for just over three years. Magdeburg, often disparaged as the gray city of heavy machinery construction, has become more colorful in this period. Red roof tiles provide bright spots, as do renovated façades, which stand out on blocks that were once monotonously grey-brown. Dozens of construction cranes swivel back and forth for the economic upswing of the East, which has thus far bypassed the city’s most important industrial sector, machine building.
Thousands of West Germans are working in Magdeburg; many have remained strangers, others have made themselves a home as Wossis: half Wessi, half Ossi.
As one of the first resettlers from West to East, I moved my primary residence to Magdeburg in July 1990, still during GDR times. Back then, it still seemed a small miracle when technicians connected my one-man office to the dpa network – and thus to the rest of the world – via a PC and a dedicated line. Today, when the East German dpa offices exchange their news via satellite, one quickly forgets the days when trouble with the line often shut down the office for days at a time. Instead of sending reports from Magdeburg to the screen in Berlin by the touch of a button, I had to dictate them to East Berlin over crackling phone lines, provided I could get through at all.
* Horizont is a news magazine that specializes in marketing, advertising, and media – eds.
** Affectionate abbreviation for the most widely manufactured car in the GDR, the Trabant – eds.
*** GDR citizens often referred to their coins as “Alu-Chips” [aluminum chips] because most (but not all) were made of aluminum, but also because they were low in value when compared to their West German counterparts – eds.