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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

"We couldn't help it that we landed in the sunny side after the war and they in the shadows," the 60-year-old Bader said. "We have an obligation to participate. West Germans should be ready to pay part in exchange for the profit they get from the east."

But the boom could not prolong the post-Communist euphoria forever. What westerners found on the other side of the wall was a country far more impoverished and environmentally spoiled than imagined, and the tremendously expensive job of making things right again.

This unhappy realization settled over western Germany about the same time as the world recession. The windfall also could not counter the truth of Germany's labor costs--among the highest in the world. Jewelry companies in Pforzheim were losing business to Asia. After the Wall came down, machine-tool manufacturers moved some of their production to the Czech Republic, where salaries are a 10th those in western Germany.

As a result, unemployment in Pforzheim has risen to 10%, and many of the city's 115,000 residents are feeling far less generous than Bader. Unemployment costs the city money for social services guaranteed to the jobless under German law. It means less business for local merchants, less income for city coffers. And with all that trouble, western Germans should send their money east? Guenther Riches, a 60-year-old retired farmer, doesn't really think so.

Germany pulled itself up by its bootstraps after the war, Riches insisted, and now the east must do the same. He resents the migration of nearly 1.5 million eastern Germans to the west.

"They should stay there and make the land work again. It's fertile land. What good does it do to spend all the money there if they come over here?" he asked.

Like Riches, many Pforzheimers have no relatives in the east. They don't know easterners and have yet to travel across the old divide. Somehow, in the news and on television, the baggage of unification becomes clearer to them than the benefits. And resentment grows.

Easterners are "lazy," some westerners say. They don't want to work for their money. The east "wants it both ways," these people say, accepting western investment and at the same time voting in large numbers for the Party of Democratic Socialism, the reformed Communist Party. They want the comforts of consumer goods and the benefits of a socialist state.

Others are miffed that easterners who rushed to consume western goods, who were so eager to have westerners open shops in their cities, now complain about the bad influence of western consumerism and the fact that experienced western entrepreneurs are driving eastern neophytes out of business.

And so for some, the idea of one, big reunited German family has been exposed as a fantasy.

Helga Duerr, a 53-year-old family assistance worker for the city, had relatives living in the former East Germany whom she visited several times, wrote letters to and sent care packages before the Wall came down. "We don't write anymore," Duerr said sadly.

"With the Wall, there was more of a duty, an obligation to stay in touch. They want more distance now. They want to reach the same level and don't want any help anymore. Sometimes there is even a bit of aggression, a little shame. They don't want people watching them narrowing the gap," she said.

Yet along with the difficulties have come some positive revelations. Easterners, it turns out, are not so completely different as westerners had feared after a 40-year separation. Germany is a country marked by strong regional identities. In the minds of westerners, easterners are Saxons more than they are former Communists, no more different, really, than folks from Bonn and Bavaria.

Human beings are human beings, says Susanne Senkel, a 20-year-old student at Pforzheim's Fachhochschule, a technical school. Easterners "are like people here, only they have another history," she said.

"Only the way they live is different," said Kirsten Dingler, a 16-year-old high school student who has visited the east and has easterners in her class. "They live in old houses, and things are not as modern."

This acceptance has roots in the fact that Pforzheim, like many German cities today, is actually a cultural melting pot, with about 25% of its population of foreign birth. They include about 19,000 Aussiedler--Russians of German descent who took advantage of their right to a German passport--and about 7,000 Turks. The city is one of a handful in Germany with a mosque, and the crowd downtown is mixed with African, Asian and southern European faces.

Pforzheim has not registered any major racist attacks in recent years, although 20% of voters cast ballots in 1992 for the ultra-right Republikaner party to protest the country's liberal asylum laws. Since the laws have been changed, the rightist vote has dropped again to an insignificant count.

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