Kahla: An East German success story

renovated town square, venerable old buildings
Kahla's colorful central square

Kahla is a small town south of Jena. This town of about 10,00 is an east German success story. Formerly, many Kahla residents commuted into Jena, where they worked in the huge Zeiss Kombinat. Now that the Zeiss workforce has been reduced to a few thousand, unemployment is a problem for Kahla as well. The town still boasts its own porcelain factory, and is quite intact historically speaking, exhibiting many fine buildings from the Renaissance to the Jugendstil era,(Circa 1910).

Three architectural jewels in Kahla

building with art nouveau facadechurch from the 1700sa solid old building from the 1600s
  1. A fine building in the Jugendstil fashion
  2. A church from the 18th century
  3. A Renaissance building in Kahla (1600s)

The mayor explains a point to a visitorBut Kahla is an example of East Germany on the rise. The mayor of Kahla, Herr Leubda, is a former math teacher at the local high school. He became an FDP (Free Democratic Party) member after the Turning Point - which is what everyone calls the change-over period from late 1989 to 1990 -and ran for city office. He knows everyone in town including the kids. Almost single-handedly, he found investors in West Germany. A company that makes very good biscuits and cookies, Grisson, was impressed with the town and its potential, and built a plant there that employs three hundred workers. Ground was broken on the plant before a single permit was obtained,and the mayor took some static for that, but the people back him strongly. The mayor found funds in the form of loans in the West, and with the town's help took on the job of installing sewers and connecting every house to the system. This project is almost complete. Here you see the last of the sewer pipe going in.

New Sanitation

torn up street, new sewer linediggers and gradersa truck on the newly re-paved roadmore road and sewer work

The streets are re-paved after the sewer work. The houses are being rehabilitated by the owners to their former historical appearance on the exterior, modernized in the interior on private initiative.

Preservation: Gains and losses

old building, re-roofed to prevent further deterioration
What can not be re-done now -and this is true for much of the East - has been re-roofed - like this house (left) in Erfurt, another city in Thuringia - so that the buildings themselves do not cave in.
example of wattle-and-daub
Many historic buildings in the East were on the verge of cave-in due to neglect, as in this picture (left) of a decaying wall of wattle-and-daub construction.
unsanitary cesspit, now disconnected
The sanitation as in this picture (left) was non-existent. This building is now connected to the new sewer. Before the new sewerage system was installed, raw sewerage would hit the ground and stay in the pit below, (now empty), mix with rainwater, and cause entirely unsanitary conditions which persisted for many years.
trash pit in bottom of an old house, doomed and ready for tear-down
Some houses are indeed decaying, (left) where nothing has been done. Generally, Kahla's citizens, proud of its long history, lament the loss of many fine old buildings.
wooden beams support an arch under reconstruction
A house and passage way (left) from Renaissance times under reconstruction. A project by an architect from West Germany.
a shoe shop displays the Nike motto
The Nike motto "Just do it!" on this shoe store (left) seems to fit here in Kahla. There is a new spirit in this town, that you see everywhere.

The up-beat mayor...

Mayor displays a clunky typewriterThis is the mayor with fifty percent of the office equipment he inherited on taking office four years ago: two WWII era typewriters. Now Kahla has a complete computer network. As you can imagine, the people in East Germany are thrilled to be getting the basics, likes sanitation, efficient heating systems, telephones, good roads and rail service, all the things that will make their cities part of modern Europe.

Back to work! -- Work and Family, major values in Germany

German workers are among the best paid in the world. Construction workers on the lowest rungs, get 20 DM. an hour, if they are union. Only 1 % of German workers get less that 4 weeks vacation, 5% get from 4 to 5 weeks, 29 percent get from 5 to 6 weeks, 69 % get 6 weeks and more, and there are many more holidays than in the U.S. At Christmas, there is a 13th month salary bonus.

In a labor negotiation there are elaborate mechanisms for re-negotiating. Seldom does it come to strikes, but if they do occur, the union usually wins. The percentage of union employees is high, approaching 70%, and oddly enough, unions are still making advances in terms of shorter work weeks and higher wages even in the face of a recession. Unions do not back off. They also have co-determination, a kind of shared governance in their plants,that involves worker input in all of the decisions effecting the business except investment, hiring and firing. In practice, this arrangement has worked to the benefit of both parties, employers and employees.

Work is a major value in German life, a major motivating drive that runs the entire society. While this may sound like a commonplace for modern societies, it was not always the case. In ancient societies like the Roman and Greek, work was not a societal value. Contributing something useful to one's fellow human beings,making something or performing a service, was not a high priority in olden times. Work was for slaves. For the masters, the ideal was the Vita Contemplativa, the contemplative life of thought, meditation and introspection. But in modern societies like Germany, work is a value that is almost unquestioned, a major force that gives meaning, shape and perspective to people's lives, that integrates them into the world and society. Many people who do not have work, or whose work has been taken away, suffer greatly.

Work is one of the two main pillars of German society. The other main value is the family. And it is on these two values that the German social system is constructed. The big question now is, if the presumably irreversible erosion of normal work duet he scarcity of jobs and the pressure of the huge labor pools of Eastern Europe,and the erosion of normal family life will have far reaching consequences for the German social net? A Polish laborer will take seven or eight marks an hour, a Russian will take three or five. Will the social compact that has gotten Germany so far be broken? Will the mentality of selfishness begin to dominate politics? Will Germans opt to scale back the social net,keep more of their money, re-trench, set themselves apart, withdraw from societal responsibility, dig a moat around themselves and live in total-security enclaves, leaving the rest of the society to fight over the remains. All over Europe this is a large question on the minds of social scientists and thinkers: they call it the re-feudalization of society. They question this re-feudalization of society, the erosion of the social state and its gains.


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Proceed to Part 7. Buchenwald and Beyond: The continuing legacy of the Holocaust or, switch to another Part:

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

9. Return to Index