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Notes From Leipzig: A City Comes Back

By Richard A. NennemanRichard A. Nenneman is editor in chief of the Monitor. / October 9, 1991



LAST month I visited Leipzig for the first time, and felt I was in a time warp.It was in the winter of 1955 that I first saw Germany. Some of the women of Frankfurt were standing in the raw air of February, still chipping the mortar off the used brick in front of bombed out apartment buildings. Two years later, when my military tour of duty was finished, there were no more women cleaning up. Germany was halfway through the first decade of its economic miracle, and there was little looking back. No bricks are being cleaned in Leipzig today, but almost everything is the same dirty gray I saw in Frankfurt 35 years ago. Some war damage still hasn't been repaired. Some apartment house gutters are so filled with dirt that weeds grow in them. Yet Leipzig also stands at the beginning of an economic comeback. In the case of this city, there is real hope that it can recapture its image as a publishing and printing center in central Europe. It also intends to become a telecommunications center. A morning spent in roundtable discussion at the "new" (1913) city hall indicated the range of feeling one encounters a year after reunification - everything from great optimism about future opportunities here to a feeling that the former communist state was simply "taken over by the West Germans. Rainer Eichhorn, mayor of the industrial city of Zwickau, sees the opportunity and is full of stories of firms that have already met with success in Zwickau. He also describes his own experience as a man who has had serious physical difficulties, but with what he acknowledges as the help of God has been completely free from them during the two years he has devoted to rebuilding the economy of Zwickau. Two of the church people whose offices helped bring about the November revolution indicated they were not entirely happy with the takeover by the Federal Republic. Other Germans, however, tell me that they speak for only about 5 percent of the people here. The critics deny they are still advocating a third way. Our group of visiting editors suggested in fact that no third way exists. What they seem to have hoped for was a mild kind of socialist state or at the very least one in which what they see as the materialistic ethic of the West would not have been so strong. Yet nowhere is materialism as strong as in a society where people spend their lives grubbing for the necessities a free society amply and swiftly supplies. The city is not without leaders who can help correct whatever sour psychology still exists. The lord mayor, Hinrich Lehmann-Grube, whom I met at a reception in the old (genuinely old) city hall, is an import from the sister West Germany city of Hannover, where he had been city manager. When the local citizens could find no one to run for mayor, they persuaded him to stay and become mayor (he had originally come to give friendly advice on the city's organization). The affable, outgoing deputy head of Leipzig University, Gunther Wartenberg, is a Reformation scholar on its theology faculty. He has the task of reorganizing the university of 9,000 students. Leipzig has the look of a great city. Perhaps it is a mite smaller than Munich. It stands at a major east-west and north-south crossroads of northern Europe, one reason it has the largest train station on the continent. Leipzig continued to have a trade fair during the communist years, and its orchestra has flourished under the hand of Kurt Mazur, who now divides his time with the New York Philharmonic. One feels Leipzig will become one of the great cities of Germany again. There is immense rebuilding to be done, and an industrial base to be recaptured. Leipzigers feel well-positioned to benefit when trade with the former East bloc countries gets underway on a new basis. The mood of many Leipzig citizens will change as the economy picks up. But the psychological problem does call for attention. Knowing they have a rich partner to their west may not be as healthy for them as whatever it was that kept the women of Germany picking away at the used bricks a generation ago.

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