29 April 2009

Pictures from a disappeared past

Taking the regional trains from Leipzig to Halle, I stopped off at Greppin, an industrial village between Bitterfeld and Wolfen. Twenty years ago it was right in the middle of the Chemiekombinat Bitterfeld one of the biggest and most-polluting industries in the GDR, the subject of a clandestine film made in the GDR and smuggled to the West, "Bitteres aus Bitterfeld", and the novel, "Flugasche"("Flight of Ashes") by Monika Maron. It was environmental degradation and destruction that helped catalyse an independent environmental movement in East Germany. The Rev. J spent six months in Greppin in the first part of 1990 as a student minister and I decided to see what it looks like now. Firstly, it has a brand new modernised station, and when you get of the train the first thing that strikes you is that you can't smell anything and you can see the sky. Back in 1990, the whole area was often covered by a strange yellow smog and the stench of chemical production was overbearing. Apart from that the village looked much the same as before - streets mostly deserted - but with new cars and the houses with new windows and shutters. The main street is still called the Ernst-Thälmann-Strasse, the name it got in the GDR era after the former German Communist leader killed in the Buchenwald concentration camp during the Second World War. The church and the manse next door are still there. I remember how the Rev J had to preach on the day of the first free elections in March 1990, and how the people in the congregation really hoped that things were going to get better. I often think back to that time and wonder what became of the villagers and the people in the parish. I suspect that they were victims twice over - victims of the environmental pollution and destruction, and then after unification, victims of unemployment when the factories were cut back and closed down.


Jane said...

Wow that really is amazing - the manse looks exactly the same. Surely the crazy landlady who locked you out at 4am is no longer there though?
I was quite moved reading this and seeing the photos - thinking about people ...

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