A Tale of Two Germanys
Lorrach and Zittau are in the same country but in different worlds |c Lorrach; Zittau
In Lorrach, administrative lawyer Friedhelm Toppler carries three wallets, one for each local currency--French, Swiss and German. After their own stores close at 6 p.m., Lorrachers drive across the border to buy wine and cheese from French shops, which stay open until 8. In Zittau, one wallet suffices, and it contains German marks. Mayor Kloss says he never uses Polish zlotys and rarely changes his marks for Czech crowns.
At the Polish market in the village of Sienawka across the Neisse River from Zittau, all the price tags are in deutsche marks. Germans buy toys, baskets, George Michael T-shirts, Finnish butter and industrial-strength Polish toilet paper for half of what they cost in their own grocery stores. Germans turn their noses up at some goods. "I only come here to buy toys and cigarettes," says Martina Pawel, who visits twice a week. When asked why she doesn't buy groceries, she wrinkles her nose, and her husband, Knut, laughs out loud.
The economic differences are fueling a crime wave in Zittau. Half of all local crimes are committed by non-Germans, say local police. "The Poles come to one of our grocery stores, and they are actually seduced into crime," says Zittau's chief of police, Hans-Gunter Braungart. "They see the assortment around them, but they can't buy anything, and the temptation is too great. I don't think they even realize that there are such things as security guards and hidden video monitors watching them."
Drugs and aliens. Shoplifting is the least of Braungart's problems. Auto theft and shop break-ins are common. A new drug called "Polish dessert," a narcotic that is injected like heroin and manufactured in warehouses in the nearby Polish city of Bogatynia, is coming across the border. Zittau police know where the warehouses are, but their colleagues in Bogatynia don't seem interested.
Illegal aliens, however, may pose a bigger problem than illegal drugs. On a recent evening, 20 miles north of Zittau in the Polish city of Zgorzelec, 50 Romanians huddled in the local train station, their belongings in gunnysacks around them. Three or four times a day, the train from Warsaw arrives in Zgorzelec, bringing hundreds like them to the eastern frontier of the European Community. When night falls, vans ferry the immigrants to shallow fords along the Neisse. Groups of illegal aliens pay between 200 and 500 marks ($150 to $350) per person to be taken to the border and shown the way to the other side.
Few illegal aliens cross from France or Switzerland into Lorrach. The police are coping with a new heroin trade from Switzerland, where the drug is legal, but Swiss and German police cooperate extensively.
Nor do neo-Nazis have much of a following in Lorrach, mainly because the local population is used to outsiders. A French library bus arrives once a month so Lorrachers can read their Balzac and George Sand in the original.
In Lorrach, the frontier is better suited to romance than to crime. Johann and Katie Riffel met two years ago on a Swiss passenger boat on the Rhine. He was a ship's mechanic from Germany, she was a cook from France, and when he asked her out for coffee, it was love at first sight. They got married in December 1992, and they had their first child last March. Despite the two countries' history, no one in either family minded much.