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EUROPE: FIVE YEARS LATER : Pforzheim, Germany : Scaling Back Expectations in the West. . . : The Wall's demise has meant sharing the wealth with eastern neighbors and has ushered in an era of limits.

November 01, 1994|MARJORIE MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PFORZHEIM, Germany — The full-bellied bronze statue planted on Pforzheim's main shopping street is a tribute to prosperous times. "Manly Figure," says the plaque next to the satisfied Herr . "Here I stand, the fat one, thanks to many donations by my Pforzheim friends."

Pforzheim is the "Gold City," leveled by Allied aircraft in 20 minutes near the end of World War II and rebuilt on its ruins by a successful jewelry industry, plus mail-order houses and machine-tool makers.

Like so much of western Germany, the city gleams clean and modern, the golden fruit of a postwar economic miracle and, to top it off, a bonanza in sales after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

But Mayor Joachim Becker looks out from the balcony of his City Hall office, over a spanking-white convention center and performing arts theater, and sees the shine dimming on a diet of budget cuts--belt-tightening for the fat man.

The five years since the fall of the Wall have ushered in an era of limits for western Germany, a feeling for the first time in the republic's 45 years that perhaps Germans cannot have an ever-expanding all.

Is it the recession? Immigration? The more than $300 billion that western Germany has spent to rebuild the former East Germany? These issues all run together in the minds of the many westerners who have lost jobs to eastern Germany and Eastern Europe. It is confusing to have these shrinking expectations and it makes some people downright angry.

The fat has softened the blow for a majority so far. Pforzheim contributes about $27 million a year to the reconstruction of eastern Germany--about 6.5% of the city budget--and Mayor Becker has done his best to ease the city into the new era. He has reduced his staff through attrition only, sold city properties, increased debt. Kindergarten classes are a little bigger, city advertisements a little smaller. Streets and schools are not cleaned as often as they used to be, and newlyweds cannot count on as many flowers at their City Hall weddings.

"The average citizen doesn't realize the change yet. The most difficult time is ahead," Becker said. Then, only half-joking, the 52-year-old mayor added: "We are making music on the Titanic."

That may sound like hyperbole, but that is how it feels to generations for whom life is shifting from the pursuit of higher education, more pay and longer vacations to a struggle to hang on to what they've got.

For decades, West Germany was the rich uncle of Western Europe and the example to its bad-boy half, its joined-at-the-spine Communist East Germany. Today, the world perceives unified Germany as bigger and stronger still, ready to take on an expanded role in the new world.

But many western Germans feel slightly weakened instead and unenthusiastic about assuming more responsibility. Because however slow capitalist development in the east might seem to easterners, many westerners cannot help feeling that the country's future lies in that direction.

"In 10 years," said City Atty. Wolf-Kersten Meyer, "the music will play in the east. Not the west."

Like all of Germany, Pforzheim was shocked when the Berlin Wall came down Nov. 9, 1989. Many residents of this city in the southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg had never seen the Wall and knew little about their brethren on the other side. Older Germans had dreamed of the day their country would be reunited into one big, happy family, but few people ever really believed the Soviet empire would collapse.

Pforzheimers watched the historic event on television, thrilled and a little scared by its magnitude. The Cold War was ending. Half of their country was suddenly open to them. They could visit a bigger Berlin, Weimar and even the Wartburg Castle, where Martin Luther translated the Bible and created the modern German language.

Within days, those funny-looking East German cars, Trabants, rolled into Pforzheim, and residents waved happily to the newly liberated easterners. With reunification 11 months later, Pforzheimers poured into the streets themselves to rejoice under ringing bells at City Hall.

The open borders were a boon to Pforzheim's jewelry and mail-order businesses. Easterners loved zodiac medallions and ordered more television sets than German companies could supply.

"Customers had to wait in line," said Manfred Bader, a director of Versandhaus Bader, the city's oldest mail-order house.

The company received a flood of new orders and expanded its lines of simple, two-piece outfits to suit the tastes of eastern women. Bader grew by 50% to 1,500 employees, and sales in the past five years have grown by two-thirds to nearly $670 million annually. A third of that business comes from eastern Germany.

This helps to explain why Bader believes that western Germany must do its share to rebuild eastern Germany.

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