Wednesday, May 28, 2008


There is a charming little town on the Polish border, a mere 20 kilometres away from what is referred as the most depressing city in Germany and 21 kilometres away from an equally depressing, but cheaper, city in Poland. This place is called Eisenh├╝ttenstadt, directly translated as Ironhutcity. More properly translated, it would be called Ironworksville. Either way, it doesn't scream cosmopolitan.

It first caught my attention because trains going to the airport in Berlin ultimately end up there. The name was so alluring, I had to know more. And was I ever in for a surprise. Turns out, when they built this very well-planned city in the early 1950s, they were planning on calling it Karl-Marx-Stadt. But then the man himself, Stalin, died. So screw Karl Marx. The man who single handedly liberated half of Europe from Fascism should at least get his name on a symmetrical, industrial, small town. So they changed their plans and were set on Stalin-Stadt. They tossed Karl-Marx-Stadt on to Chemnitz, and let the worship begin.

All they gave old Karl was a street name.

Then crisis. Turns out Stalin was a bad guy. And Karl-Marx-Stadt was already in use. So, like any urban planner would do, they chose Ironhutville and kept on building.

Captivated by this story, I decided I should go there. It just happened to be, however, the most dead city of 35,000 people I have ever seen. My little sister, Lizz, was visiting. She only had 5 days in Germany and I decided to make her spend one of them in Ironhutville. It was like a residential neighbourhood of East Berlin, but empty.
We did the rounds and checked out the Russian monument. Then we decided to go to Frankfurt Oder, Germany's most depressing city, on the Polish border. In comparison, it was a centre of action and culture. License plates from as far away as Hanover were rushing over the border to buy cheap lettuce and pickles in Polish supermarkets.

Here I am in Germany's other Frankfurt.

After the Capitalist take over of the German Democratic Republic, they stripped Karl Marx of all his glory and renamed Chemnitz Chemnitz. With the name again available, it is unfortunate that Ironhutville has yet to reclaim is orginially intended glory.