Jena and Environs: Housing in East Germany

Courtyard of University of Jena
Friedrich Schiller Universitaet, Jena


Jena is a city of a 100,000 in the state of Thuringia, south central Germany, in the former East Germany. The landscape there consists of long low ridges and wooded hills. Historically, some of the great names of German literature and philosophy are associated with this city, like Schiller and Herder, and Fichte.

At the University

This legacy was corrupted during the Nazi era, when Jena became the University that propagated the Nazi race theories that 'proved' the superiority of the Aryan race and the inferiority of all others.

Retribution came in the form of a fire bomb raid on the city. In many German cities, where there is avoid at the center, you can easily tell that they were severely bombed.

Flat plaza in town center... ...means destruction in WWII by bombing,

Carl Zeiss

Zeiss Planetarium in JenaGlass manufacture has been Jena's big industry in the past; glass and fine lenses. Many people who know cameras know the name "Carl Zeiss:Jena." The 35 mm camera was developed here in the twenties. The first Planetarium ever (see left) was built here. During the Communist era, the Zeiss Kombinat in Jena employed 30,000 people in its extensive factory. Today, the glass and lens industry in Jena employs only a round 3,000. Zeiss, like most East German industries was not even designed to be efficient, and after Unification, it was massively downsized.


Three Trabant carsThere are still a few Trabis around, but they are getting rarer, these polluting plastic wonders that run on a two cycle engine like a chain saw for which you have to mix oil into the gasoline. They have become a national joke, a symbol of the old East, the butt of a thousand jokes: Do you know how to double the value of your Trabi? Tank it up. At sixty miles an hour, the Trabi is the quietest car on the road...because it is so cramped you have to cover your ears with your knees. --The Trabbi is almost a rarity on East German roads now. ---Beginning in 1991 the government has put 40 billion marks into road improvement in East Germany, and the Telekom, responsible for the phones, has put 29 Billion into the telephone network. There have been massive improvements in the infrastructure of eastern Germany.

Housing in Jena

Socialist-style apartment complex Housing is a problem in Jena-- decent housing. Lots of families want to move out of their socialist style apartment buildings with their three tight rooms into something better. Affordable housing is the problem.

Rehabilitated older apartments... Many buildings in Jena in the fancy part of town have been rehabilitated. These are fine old houses in the Art Nouveau, or Jugendstil style....are very desirable They are now so expensive that they are out of reach for most of the Easterners. It has turned out that many of the owners of these buildings were in West Germany, or West German interests have come in to buy the buildings and renovate them. Once renovated, the rents are too high for the Easterners. Possibly someone from the West with a West salary might be able to afford them. Remember, East salaries are only 80% of West salaries, and lots of people are on unemployment. Real unemployment might be as high as 30% here if the hidden part were counted, and in some spots in eastern Germany, 40%.

Recently re-habed apartments......not a first choice, but quite nice overallOne housing alternative is getting into a refurbished Plattenbau, ("plate building"). These apartment buildings, in the drab socialist style, were built by the lift-slab method, in which floors were poured on the ground level, and slowly jacked into place, rising on steel columns. The pre-fabricated walls were then fitted into place. These houses were re-habilatated by the German government after the Russian military left them.


For Student Exercises in English and German to Part 3 click here!

Proceed to Part 4. The Klemms: an East German family or, switch to another Part:

1. Berlin and Environs
2. Freiburg: Living the Good Life
3. Jena and Environs: Work in East Germany- Top of this page
5. Building, Housing and Work in Jena
6. Kahla, an East German Success Story
7. Buchenwald and Beyond: The continuing legacy of the Holocaust
8. Duisburg: The East-West Unification Blues

9. Return to Index