Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Shadows of Eastern Germany

For the last 15 years, West Germans have been paying an additional 8% income tax to help rebuild East Germany. The results are extraordinary – entire cities completely rebuilt, full of tidy houses with spectacular dahlia gardens.

Yet a shadow still remains. Every city still contains a number of completely dilapidated buildings left over from the communist days, and the Island of Rugen is dotted with ruined estates. Many of the interior roads of Rugen are still half cobblestone/half asphalt, from the old days when the government didn’t have enough money to pave the entire road.

Germans everywhere have stories from the days when East Germany was effectively a prison. West Germans sent monthly care packages to their relatives in East Germany containing everything from chocolate to pencils. Visitors leaving East Germany had their cars searched with guard dogs and mirrors. East Germans who were caught trying to escape got six years in prison, if they were lucky enough not to be shot.