A Tale of Two Germanys
Lorrach and Zittau are in the same country but in different worlds |c Lorrach; Zittau
"Everyone in the area where I grew up speaks a little German," says 20-year-old Katie. She and her husband consider themselves inhabitants of the Rhine region, she from Alsace on the French side, he from the Upper Rhineland on the German side. They are Europeans without having to think about it. "Remember, we are far closer here to Paris than we are to Berlin," says Mayor Rainer Offergeld.
Once again, things are different in Zittau. Bernd and Matgorzata Hubner met five years ago, when as an East German journalism student Bernd applied to go to Poland. Matgorzata, a pen pal, had invited him to come, and when he arrived, she showed him her hometown west of Warsaw. He didn't speak Polish, she didn't speak German, but they communicated in fragments of Russian and English. They were married a year later.
Marriages between Poles and Germans are rare, and they are practically nonexistent between Germans and Czechs. Nevertheless, neither family objected, even though Germans destroyed Matgorzata's grandfather's sausage business during World War II. The Hubners' children will speak both German and Polish, but Bernd and Matgorzata don't believe that will make them Europeans in the Maastricht sense of the word. "There's always talk about a unified Europe, but it means a unified Western Europe," says Bernd. "A new Iron Curtain is coming up here, a border determined by living standards rather than politics."
Matgorzata fears the wrath of neo-Nazis in Zittau. When her mother visits, she tells her not to speak Polish, and the Hubners' 4-year-old son, Marc, is not allowed to speak it in public. Bernd says they have discussed moving to another country if the violence continues.
Although both Zittau and Lorrach once depended on the textile industry, which has fallen on hard times, Lorrachers see themselves undergoing a painful adjustment, but Zittauers know their collapsed textile industry will never revive. Despairingly, they look to tourism and trade for salvation.
In a sense, border communities such as Lorrach and Zittau are models for Europe's future. Lorrach holds out a comfortable vision that is the result of 40 years of hard work among Western nations. Zittau must reinvent itself, a job for which there are no plans. Zittauers may get rid of the coal smoke, but their streets will never smell of chocolate.
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GRAPHIC Picture |c Mean streets. Zittauers fear that economics will imprison them, just as politics once did. Zittau, Eastern Germany, unemployment |c 19.4 pct. |s Jan-Peter Boning/Zenit for USN&WR; Picture |c Fat city. Cosmopolitan Lorrachers are already comfortable in the new Europe. Lorrach, Western Germany, unemployment |c 6.2 pct. |s Jan-Peter Boning/Zenit for USN&WR; Map |c No caption