BERLIN — Eberhard Diepgen was enjoying a drive across the countryside recently when he ran smack into the 20th Century. Or, rather, eastern Germany did.
Construction work had caused what every motorist has come to expect in the former Communist region: a massive, motionless, turn-off-the-ignition-and-just- sit-for-two-hours traffic jam.
"I was really annoyed," admitted Diepgen, the mayor of Berlin. But then he learned that the reason he wasn't moving forward was because eastern Germany \o7 is.\f7
"Bridges that hadn't been maintained for 40 or 50 years were being repaired up ahead," Diepgen explained.
With the first anniversary of German unification coming this Thursday, such scenes are not uncommon as efforts to rebuild the dilapidated east slowly but surely make headway. For even while the people of east and west remain emotionally apart, the physical evidence of two Germanys is beginning to disappear.
"Before, everything used to reek of an undefinable mixture of lignite, exhaust fumes and disinfectant," commented the respected weekly newspaper Die Zeit. "Now the whole land smells of fresh paint."
In Bonn, government spokesman Dieter Vogel acknowledges that big challenges still lie ahead, but he adds, "We've pretty much accomplished what we expected to in a year."
And the cost, so far, has been a staggering 100 billion marks ($66 billion).
Still, a sense of impatience is almost palpable in the east, where anxiety over rising unemployment has replaced the euphoria of November, 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell.
"If you look at what was East Germany, you see all this support from the affluent west, which is something the rest of the East Bloc can only dream about," said Vogel. "But people don't compare eastern Germany to Poland. They compare it to western Germany, and they see that it's better here, and of course they want that as fast as possible, which is only right."
However, as Mayor Diepgen found out, the path of progress is not without its roadblocks.
For example, telephone connections between east and west have improved tremendously this year--but millions of eastern families still have no phone. "They'll probably have to wait up to two years," said Klaus Czerwinski of Telekom, the national phone company.
To encourage investment in the east, he said, priority is being given to commercial enterprises, as well as to emergency services and government offices.
In Communist East Germany, people waited 12 to 30 years for a phone that, inevitably, was poor quality, rigged to a party line--and bugged by the secret police.
"We've put in 500,000 new phone lines," Czerwinski said. "That's more in one year than in the entire 40-year history of East Germany." Public phones have been hooked up in the 2,000-plus villages that had no telephones whatsoever, he added.
Construction in the east is also booming, figures show, but that, too, has its downside.
Cities such as Dresden are proudly restoring medieval castles and cathedrals--but not the substandard yet desperately needed apartments in the east.
"More than half a million apartments are uninhabitable," said Joachim Schnurr of the Building Ministry. "So far, we've gotten 50,000 ready or almost ready.
"You go to Leipzig and you'll see rows and rows of apartment houses where the top floors are empty because the rain pours in and no one can live there," he said.
But work cannot be done until questions about property ownership are cleared up. More than 1 million claims have been filed by people who say the Communists--or, earlier, the Nazis--seized their homes or businesses.
Understaffed, backlogged eastern courts have not made noticeable progress in sorting out the problem, but officials hope that a new law will clear the logjam by giving priority to claimants with a firm investment plan.
Finding property lines is also proving to be a headache, according to Schnurr.
"We have to go out and re-measure everything," he said. "There aren't any markers left. Under the old regime, kids were rewarded at school for collecting boundary stones, because owning property was against socialist principles."
Dresden, for example, has embarked on a massive reconstruction program to finally repair World War II damage to landmarks such as the Frauenkirche cathedral.
"There's war damage all over the east," said Schnurr. "It's shocking. You look behind facades and see nothing but rubble behind them."
Dresden spokeswoman Barbara Hinzen said 160 million marks ($95 million) was spent this year to repair and widen streets, build bike paths and put up traffic lights in the city of 500,000. More stoplights went up this past year than in the 10 previous years combined, she said, but another 400 are still needed.
"You can't find any part of town without a construction crane," Hinzen said.
In Chemnitz, the opera, the theater square and a museum are undergoing renovation.