The Leipzig contrast — part two
As I promised last week I will tell you the rest of my grandparents’ journey and show an example of the contrast in Leipzig this week.
After they passed the first checkpoint they had to drive through the military area, which was full of landmines if you left the road. The military area was followed by a piece of what my grandparents call ‘nobody’s land’. When you drove in nobody’s land, you were not allowed to stop or to drive in another direction. When you did stop or changed direction, you would be surrounded by policemen and soldiers within five minutes.
After nobody’s land there was the eastern checkpoint where my grandparents had to follow the exact same procedures as at the western checkpoint and they also had to exchange their western money for east-German money. There was a limited amount of money they could bring to Leipzig, and they couldn’t bring it back to western Europe. So they had to spend it all in east-Germany. Most of the time they didn’t spend everything, because they were staying at the house of oma Leipzig. So they gave the rest of the money to oma Leipzig, which was actually illegal in that time. My grandparents could bring presents, but everything had to be documented. They had to fill in a special form with the value of the presents and what is inside the presents (see the picture on the left).
When my grandparents finally arrived in Leipzig, they couldn’t do anything normal tourist would do nowadays. My father once told me a story about an apple. He wanted to grab an apple at a little supermarket, but luckily one of the German friends could stop him. Afterwards he was told that if he would grab the apple he could have been shot by the guards that guarded the city.
The first year my grandparents were in Leipzig, they decided to stay for some extra days, but they had already told the military that they would only stay for a week. When they didn’t left on the day they were supposed to leave, the military knocked on the door to ask why my grandparents didn’t left yet. My grandparents answered that they wanted to stay for a few more days, but this wasn’t allowed and they were ordered to leave right away. They got half an hour to pack their stuff and say their goodbyes. After this they were followed by the police when driving to the first checkpoint.
A weird fact is that the East-Germans called the checkpoints ‘Grenzübergang’, which translated means; point to cross the border. The West-Germans and the American didn’t called it borders because they didn’t acknowledged the DDR (East-Germany) as a state on its own.
In East-Germany, tourists had to pay a lot of extra costs. They had to pay to use the streets and highways. And they also had to pay for a sticker for onto the car’s window. This sticker showed the dates you were allowed to stay in East-Germany. Every receipt (of stuff you bought) had to be signed and had to include your personal passport number. You had to show all these receipts at the checkpoint on the way back.
These stories show how strict the DDR (German ‘democratic’ republic) was during the period of the wall. A lot of this has changed since the wall fell down in 1989. Although you can still see the communistic influences in the buildings, the food and in the people. I will show you some examples of these influences you can see nowadays.
An example of the big contrast in Leipzig are the buildings. You can find really modern buildings, historical buildings and abandoned buildings from the communistic times in the same street. The building on the left is the building oma Leipzig used to live in and the building on the right is an abandoned factory. The weird thing is that these building are opposite to each other.
There is a story about the abandoned factory. The friends from Leipzig told me that you can buy this complete factory (it is really big) for a symbolic amount of €1, but then you have to clean up everything. From the ground until the roof. There is a lot of chemical waste in the building and in the ground, which was just left there when they abandoned the factory.
Another example of the contrast in Leipzig is that they have other brands than the former West-Germany, because they only had East-German- and Russian products. In Leipzig you can buy Vita Cola instead of Coca-Cola. The inhabitants of Leipzig are calling this brand DDR-Cola instead of Vita-Cola. This was a brand which started in the DDR period. It tastes really different than the normal Coca-Cola, but it is really nice. Every time I go there I take some extra to bring back home.
In the time of the DDR there weren’t many cars, even in the Netherlands and West-Germany. In that time only one or two people in a street had a car. East-Germany had an own car factory, which made only the same cars. This was the Trabant factory. A Trabant is a really small car made for a big part out of plastic. This car was really expensive for the poor inhabitants of Leipzig, but you saw them a lot for that time. Although the factory closed soon after the wall fell down, you can still see these Trabant cars a lot in Leipzig. There are even special city tours in a Trabant car.
That was it for this week! I hope you enjoyed the story of my grandparents and understand a little bit more about Leipzig during the DDR period. Next week I will tell you something about the Weihnachtsmarkt in Leipzig and why it is different than any other Christmas fair in Germany.