Lost bearings in Neuruppin

XQ is staying in a hostel for students of a technical college. The hostel is in Tresko, the southernmost district of Neuruppin. There’s not much out there; a Soviet communications and observation platform, a few farms, and a petrol station. There used to be a ball-bearing factory, but it was closed down as it was simply unable to compete with Western factories.

It’s the same story all over Eastern Germany. The old factories are about thirty years out of date, and aren’t really suitable for anything except closing. The problem is that no new factories are opening.

The German political system is currently ruled by a right-wing coalition. When it came to re-unifying the two countries, the coalition was obviously primarily interested in helping out its friends—rich landowners. So rather than selling off the land in the East and compensating its pre-Soviet owners at the going rate for whatever was siezed by the Communists, the government decided to return as much as possible to its rightful owners or their descendents.

As a result, Germans have so far made over three million individual claims on property in the former East. The government has admitted that there is no way they will be able to process all the claims before the end of the century.

In the mean time, of course, nobody is going to build a factory on land that might suddenly be found to belong to someone else. Hence pretty much the only Western private investment in the East is running shops in rented premises.

The East Germans, former citizens of the DDR—or Ossis, as they all seem to call each other to distinguish themselves from the pampered Wessis—are predictably unimpressed. It’s not that they aren’t grateful for the shops, the new roads, the telephones and so on. It’s just that they’d rather like some jobs too. If not new jobs, then at least the old ones they used to have. And private investment in factories and industry seems unlikely in the next few years, not just because of the property problem, but because of the looming German recession. Whilst I was there, the news was full of trades unionists outraged at the prospect of 15,000 job losses in the steel industry.

If they think that’s bad, I thought to myself, they should try living in Britain. We had 13,000 job losses announced just this week, with 30,000 a couple of weeks before that.

Many of the students staying in the Tresko hostel are busy retraining. Not through choice, but because there’s nothing else they can do. Even though they can cross the border, they don’t have the skills or the education to gain a job in the West. It’s these disillusioned young factory workers and engineering students who have ended up hating foreigners; and as luck would have it, there’s a large hostel of Asian immigrants next door.

So far there has only been one racist attack in Neuruppin, but doubtless there will be more as the situation worsens. XQ has made friends with some builders from Leipzig who are staying in the hostel. They have jobs rebuilding the town, so they’re more amused by the young ausl”anderin than anything else. When some drunken youths ran through the corridors banging on doors, breaking furniture and shouting “ausländer raus!” the builders confronted them and told them in no uncertain terms to shut up and get out. Since then it’s been quieter, but I still worry.