The German Democratic Republic (GDR or East Germany), was formed in 1949 in the Soviet-occupied zone of post-Nazi Germany. Leipzig was the second-largest city in East Germany and also the symbol of the 1989 Peaceful Revolution.
Since 1982, people had been gathering at the St. Nicholas Church (see the two pictures at the left most below) in the centre of Leipzig every Monday to pray for concerns of both a personal and political nature. The Monday prayer services soon transformed into political protests on the square. The number of protesters peaked on 30 October 1989 with 300,000. The Monday demonstrations spread to other cities and caused the entire government to resign to appease the people which turned out to be too little, too late. Soon after, as a result of a miscommunication, East Germans were permitted to pass freely through the Berlin Wall. The GDR had come to an end. In 1990, East Germany and West Germany were reunited.
Now the Augustusplatz (see the two pictures at the right most above) is quiet but during the days of the 1989 Peaceful Revolution, every corner of it was filled up with thousands and thousands of people shouting “We are the people!”
Some buildings built at the GDR era were being demolished. Everyone paedestrian stopped and looked up (see the pictures below).
What is the change since the unification of Germany? Some clues to the answer may be found in what I heard in east Germany.
When I was in Leipzig, I was a bit fed up by the complete absence of English words everywhere, even in the museums or the hot sightseeing places Everything was in German. (Some museums were a bit better in the way they could give you a few pages of handouts in English buy they would charge you for the handouts because they called such handouts “guided tour in English”) Most of the people could not speak English. (Interestingly, despite my typical Asian tourist appearance, I was one time asked about the directions in German on the street!) When I visited the Transparent Factory of Volkswagen in Dresden which was open to international visitors, I found their notices and instructions and their open guided tours were also in German only (although their video programs displayed inside had multiple languages)! I complained this to the receptionist there. The lady there explained that East Germany had returned to the open world for 17 years only and it would need more time to make it international. But it was changing. Before there was no English films and all menus were in German, but now there was one English film a week and it was possible to find one or two restaurants providing menu in English.
On the train leaving Dresden for Berlin, I met a twenty-year-old university student studying in Dresden. She came from East Germany. She was too young to experience the German reunification. Although lots of factories had been closed down, her parents while continuing their jobs, had no problem with the change of era. On the other hand, her grandparents had difficulties in adjusting to the new era. Finally, she remarked, “being a East German, I am still prejudiced.” The political and physical reunification did not came easily, but the reunification in people’s mind may be proved to be even more difficult.
I took the Ryanair from Stansted Airport in London to Altenburg Airport which was about one hour bus from Leipzig city centre. As Altenburg Airport was the airport for cheap flights, there was scarcely any facilities. People could watch their friends or family leaving the airplane through the fence of wire – the intimacy you could never find in modern airports.
Leipzig was also once the home to Bach, Wagner, Mendelssohn and Goethe. Bach spent 27 yeas in St. Thomas Church (see the pictures below) as the choirmaster of its boys choir.
The most impressive place was the Stasi Museum (see the pictures below) – the former headquarters of the East German secret police. Not too long ago (just 17 years ago), people living in the East Germany were living in the world like the one depicted in Goerge Orwell’s “Animal Farm” – secret surveillance and ideological brain wash. It happened in our modern world!
An interesting scenario happened when I was visting the Stasi Museum. An east German guy wanted to talk to me but he was not good at English. I could only guess his meaning from his simple English words and his gestures. He kept stressing to me he was very young, only 12 years old when he came to Leipzig. He hurt his back while doing the work in somewhere. No matter how much he made the actions or the sounds, I still could not guess what that place was about. He said it was for young people. So “a school?” I asked. “No”. Finally he checked with another German for the correct English word. The answer was… “prison”! No wonder he kept stressing he was young when he was there. He had been in a prison! Besides a school, there are other places for young people – a prison! It was never an easy riddle.
I had a soup in Maggi restaurant (see the pictures below). Of course the soup was the Maggi soup, but not too recommendable unless you like the atmosphere of the Maggi world.
Unlike the U.K. and Hong Kong, people going the supermarkets were not given free bags in Germany. Usually there were machines in supermarkets for receiving the used bottles and giving out the receipts for refund (see the picture at the right most below).