A Tale of Two Germanys
Lorrach and Zittau are in the same country but in different worlds |c Lorrach; Zittau
The western German city of Lorrach smells of chocolate. The eastern German city of Zittau reeks of coal smoke. The two aromas do not mix well, and that is a problem.
The new Germany is the enigma at the heart of the new Europe. Two and a half years after unification, the Germans stand in two places at once, in the wild East and the orderly West, unsure whether to define themselves as the westernmost nation in Eastern Europe, where their ancient cultural ties are strongest, or as the easternmost nation in Western Europe, where they belong by virtue of their postwar history. For now, Germany's personality hovers somewhere between Zittau and LÃorrach.
Look east and west from a narrow strip of road north of Zittau, across the slow-rolling Neisse River, which forms the border between Germany and Poland, and you will see two of Western Europe's nightmares. The Polish countryside appears to be a vast brown coal pit, its viscera laid bare to a depth of hundreds of meters by cranes and bulldozers. The smokestacks of a Communist-era electric power plant belch sulfurous smoke into the air. Looming through the smog are the mountains on the northern frontier of the Czech Republic, one of Eastern Europe's most popular routes for smuggling stolen cars, prostitutes, cigarettes and drugs in and out of the European Community. German helicopters and police patrol this grune grenze, green border, but they cannot stop the flow of contraband.
Antisemitism. West of the road, sandwiched between Zittau's welcome sign and the rambling construction site of a new industrial park, is a desecrated Jewish cemetery. Its 20 or so gravestones lay broken and cracked, their Stars of David face down in the mud, for months after right-wing extremists vandalized the graves more than a year ago. The vandals have never been caught, and the city has so little money and so many other priorities that it did not repair the damage until last month.
Three hundred miles to the west, the city of Lorrach also lies on a river in a triangle of nations. Here, France, Switzerland and Germany converge, and locals proudly call their area "the heart of Europe." When a breeze blows, the aroma of chocolate fills the air, courtesy of a Swiss and American candy company that employs German and French workers.
To the west of Lorrach, the Rhine River forms the frontier with France, carrying goods and people from across the continent. Since January, French and German citizens have traveled freely between the two countries. To the south, the mountains of Switzerland are more frequented by tourists than by smugglers.
"There is no comparison between the two places," says Zittau's mayor, JÃurgen Kloss. "The region around Lorrach grew up economically with the adjacent regions in France and Switzerland, so there are hardly any social differences across borders. It's normal for the French to work in Germany and the Germans to work in Switzerland, and the wages are fairly similar. Because of this, they don't really see each other as foreigners. In Zittau, the borders have been opened, but the social differences between countries have deepened profoundly."