Arriving at Hannover HBf it had become obvious we had left the old East Germany behind. It hadn't been a sudden transition. There is no longer a border of course and the signs are more subtle now; among them decaying superceded railway infrastructure, lonely, silent factories and public buildings. These are common throughout the eastern half of Germany. Evidence of the rough economic awakening for the East that followed reunification, I guess. More than twenty years ago now but a daily visual reminder for citizens of the former DDR who are now part of the reunited Republic of Germany.
From what I can tell, being part of the one new Germany was pretty well received by everyone at first, but the inevitable and rapid closure of state run factories and institutions in the East when they needed to compete in a market driven economy left untold numbers of citizens of the East out of a job and with dire prospects. Pay rates and conditions haven't yet recovered, I was told by a local teacher.
In the time since reunification much has happened. Lots of money has been pumped into the economic wastelands of the East and progress is obvious and undeniable. Empty buildings; hotels, shops, apartments, factories, and railway stations are still everywhere you look. They stand alongside refurbished and new buildings and make a forlorn, sad statement that is hard to ignore. There is romance in the east of Germany, and lots of it, but there is also, I think, a degree of grieving that sits alongside it, and awareness of it cannot be easily escaped. The building in the photograph above, obviously a former guesthouse in the holiday town of Thale, was one of many in the town, doors and windows boarded up, covered by webs or vines. How many stories were there in its rooms? How many overnight stays, holidays, meals, conversations? Now abandoned, it invited me to stand quietly before it in silence.
Experiencing all this through a tourist's eyes I can't hope to appreciate the subtleties and the politics surrounding reunification. I can only describe the superficial: the beauty and the charm; the modern infrastructure and the excitement; yet surrounded everywhere still with the ghosts of an earlier time.
So it was goodbye to the former DDR with a sense of what the Germans describe as 'Sehnsucht'; a wistful longing for something you have left or are separated from.
There is another reason I am a little sad leaving the East. It is a selfish one. I devour every opportunity to practise my German. People in the East were by and large happy for me to do that as, until reunification Russian was the preferred second language and older people there commonly have little or no English. In the West, English ability is far more widely spread, and I guess I will be replied to in English whenever I open my mouth with my (so I have been told) atrocious accent.
There is another difference in the landscape between East and West that might not be obvious if you aren't looking for it. In the East, farms were collectivised. Hugh broad acre farms were created from small family farms after the second world war. In many cases for various reasons it has been difficult to sub-divide them again and they remain large. Family run farms have remained small in the West as they have been since feudal times.
Marburg an der Lahn is our next stop. a University town. It is undeniably also a town of the West. The contrast may be interesting.
I'll let you know.