And did he feel joyous? “I felt nothing.”
In the years that followed, he lost his job at the refinery (PCK), which was sold by the state to a consortium of oil companies and promptly cut the workforce from 9, 000 to 1, 200. Despite enrolling on more Government training schemes than he can count (first in electronics, later in IT), he has now been out of work for 22 years.
So he is ambivalent about the demise of the wall and the end of the GDR, which promised full employment. “The positive thing is that it brought German brothers together, ” he said. “But working people lost out. We lost our jobs and we are dependent on handouts. So we are not really free.”
Konrad Fitz (Christian Jungeblodt)
It is one of a handful of industrial towns in the former East Germany that have struggled to see the benefits of reunification. Huge efforts were made to align east with west in the years that followed 1990 but it never happened: those who could leave moved to western cities in search of work, with an exodus of 1.7 million former east Germans in two decades. Those who stayed struggled to find work as formerly subsidised industries that struggled to compete with the productivity levels of the market economy had to lay off staff.
In Schwedt, some locals claim that the official unemployment rate of 15 percent (double the national average) obscures the true figure because of numerous job creation schemes and reclassifications.
Even the lucky ones with jobs recall the GDR with affection. If these feelings are solely the product of the regime’s propaganda, it must have been remarkably effective: two and a half decades on, almost everyone I spoke with said daily life was better back then. Neighbours, they said, helped each other out, and evenings were livelier than in today’s ghost town, with vast boulevards empty but for broken glass.
“The GDR wasn’t as bad as people say, ” said Mr Fitz, who now picks up bottles from the street to supplement his benefits with the meagre 25 cents supermarkets pay for plastic empties. “At least everybody could make a living and rent was affordable.
“In the GDR, people would come out on to the streets to wish each other ‘Happy New Year’. Even if you didn’t know each other, you would hug. If you do that now, people think you are a freak.”
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