I was in Germany last week on business and spent a night in Magdeburg, a medium-sized city (population ~210,000) in former Eastern Germany. It was my first time ever beyond the old “iron curtain” and I was curious to see if I would note any differences from the Germany I know on the Western side.
The differences were minimal. Indeed, had I not known Magdeburg used to be part of Eastern Germany I would not have been able to tell the difference from any other German city. There are almost no remnants from those days. Communist street names have been all changed, I did not see any Trabant cars (I was really hoping to get a glimpse of one) and even the socialist-looking buildings from the FDR era were mostly renovated and blended in with the new architecture. Perhaps only the wide avenues , once grounds for May Day parades, gave an indication this city was part of the Communist Block a mere 16 years ago. Oh, and the fact that hardly anybody spoke or understood English.
Over dinner, our hosts told us more about the city. Apparently, when the Berlin wall came down the population of Magdeburg was almost 300,000. Local industry was mostly composed of mom & pop factories, producing widgets that nobody had use to once the old regime collapsed. Over the course of the 90s the population dwindles by almost a third and unemployment rose to the highest level in Germany, about 20%. In the past few years the authorities are trying to redefine the city as an academic center. There are two universities, a conservatorium and several research institutes.
After dinner we were taken for a short drive around Magdeburg, which this year is celebrating its 1,200 anniversary. The cathedral is an imposing structure, built by the Catholics but used, soon after its completion and to this day, by the Reformists. The Americans spared this magnificent piece of medieval architecture when they bombed the city in January 1945. REM recently gave an open-air concert in the square facing the cathedral. The river Elbe crosses the city and the numerous bridges provide pleasant views of this tranquil city.