Sunday, November 9, 2014

Back in the DDR


The former East Germany is a Cool Place. It's so cool that even the 'Wessies' are discovering the attributes of the their former Eastern Bloc countryfolk. In the 25 years since the 'wall' came down in Berlin, it's amazing that it's taken so long for those in the rest of Germany to realise that the DDR wasn't just state surveillance and repression of those who disagreed.

In recent years, 'capitalist' Germany has come to accept ideas such as a right to free childcare as normal when only a few years ago they were ridiculed as 'communist'.

In the east, the people have their 'freedom' - i.e. they can travel wherever they want. The right to work and a decent wage though is another thing. In some towns of the east, a take home wage can be as little as 500 Euros a month. Mind the right to free at access healthcare? That's communist too.

Little wonder that more people seem to be turning to Die Linke - the Left - for a political solution not to mention reviving formerly discredited 'communist' ideas that had quickly been dumped after reunification. Die Linke apparently includes many members of the former East German Socialists much to the horror of some on the centre-right.

I like this example from the Guardian's take on things regarding education:

 ...when poor results in OECD school rankings led to call for reforms of Germany’s education system at the turn of the millennium, a delegation was sent to Helsinki to study Finland’s top-ranking system. The Finns told them that they, in turn, had taken their inspiration from East Germany.
Frau Tocasaid's mother testifies to this. When East Germany was annexed re-united with the West - and the EU - everything that the DDR regime had built was swept aside to make way for the 'superior' ideas, methods and institutions of the West. Little by little over the past 25 years people have come to realise the error of that thinking.

Die Famillie Tocasaid was fortunate to set off to the eastern state of Saxony to re-unite the bairns with their German grandparents a few weeks back. The nearest airport is Pratha.

Having made this journey many times over the years, I still take a morbid interest in the flat and grey environment that seems to make up much of the Czech Republic. Greater Prague itself is horrible - like Glasgow's infamous 'grim hinterlands' times ten.

Sexy cabaret
The Czechs too have grasped their 'freedom'. It seems to manifest itself in out-of-control and garish roadside advertising. Fuck, it's everywhere.

Another manifestation of Czech freedom seems to be the market for 'erotic dancing' and establishments that offer that kind of adult entertainment. Their names amuse me on the long drive north: 'Sexy Club', 'Extasy Cabaret' and 'Darling Cabaret' which always amuses me as it reminds me of our very ane and sexless Alastair. The clubs and enthusiastic attempt at English obviously aimed at those Yankee and Brit pioneers of freiheit who come to live and play in Prague but who can't or won't learn the Slavic tongue. The Czech language indeed, seems to be held in even less esteem than our own Scottish. At least Scottish Gaelic, as it is presented in our cultural output and television - see the dire Bannan - is deemed worthy to present to those Engerlish speakers who stumble by and wish to look in.

The drive north towards Germany takes you past the hulking grey behemoth that is Cerny Most. This is not the socialist past at its best. A sprawling grey expanse of municipal housing erected in honour of Edinburgh's St James Centre and Leith's Banana Flats. The CM scheme is also home to a large retail park which includes the Republik's branch of IKEA. The Czech or Prague government obviously sees retail as a shining path to a better future and has rewarded the Czech slum dwellers with a rainbow coloured neon sign that welcomes drivers to CM and diverts the eye from the glum surroundings.


Not far from the German border is the city of Liberec - or Reichenberg as it was to the Germans before 1945. Close to Liberec is the Jested mountain on the top of which stands a huge pointed tower. This part of the socialist past seems welcomed by Czechs after a hard-day's skiing even though the monument is obviously the world's biggest middle-finger to Western civilisation.

The visit to the former-DDR is as pleasant as ever but is enhanced by the visit of Dutch punks Bambix to the Emil autonomous centre in Zittau. We head to the Emil and take in the punk rock, ludicrously cheap but excellent beer and salad-leaden vegan burgers. First up in Inner Conflict from Koln. Tuneful hardcore with female vocals - entertaining with good riffs and quality tunes. The guitarist requests than some folk in the crowd stop smoking as the singer is pregnant - it seems as if the anti-smoking laws in Germany have some wiggle room.

Emil, Zittau

Next up is Johnnie Rook from Berlin, who I have heard of courtesy of a split EP with Bambix. They kick more ass than Inner Conflict do. Not only that but the singer is pregnant with twins. This lot are great - bags of energy and a charismatic singer who owns the stage. Like a high-octane AC/DC playing hardcore punk.

Bambix do not disappoint. A Dutch band, speaking German and singing in English. The singer is a tunesmith and the first non-pregnant female-singer of the night. I resolve to see this lot back in Scotland if the chance comes along.

Back in town the next day, local municipal buildings are presenting exhibitions on the 25th anniversary of re-unification. As much of the east has died in the past quarter century, here's hoping that a move to the left can see the old towns and cities rejuvenated. There's a lot of the socialist past that's worth reclaiming.


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