Sorry for not posting for a couple of days. I have been at a trade show in Leipzig, meeting clients and getting my little business up and running. The business side of things went well but I won’t bore you with that. I’ll bore you with something else.
The event runs over two days and after the first day there is a dinner/drinks do in the evening. I found myself on a table with another “Zugereiste” (literally, “someone who travelled here” which is a sort of slang for a foreigner or ex-pat). He was a Russian, now living and working in Germany. He runs the procurement department of an insurance company so it’s important I stay on his good side. The wine and general relaxed atmosphere you get when a load of businessmen are let out for a night meant that before long I had a new Russian friend.
We spoke about what we missed about our home countries and what we liked most about Germany. Compared to my background – growing up comfortably in 70s English suburbia – his early life had been a lot tougher and so his view of what he liked about Germany was different. Fairly soon after arriving here, his father had been very ill, so they took him to a hospital where he was quickly and expertly treated. Only later did they sort out whether they were insured. He is convinced that his father wouldn’t be alive if they had stayed in Russia and then said something which I thought sounded very wise after several glasses of wine. “If you have some money and smile, you can enjoy living anywhere. It is when you have no money and a problem that you find out how good a country is.” My comments on liking the fact that you could get a beer in the cinema seemed a little frivolous after that.
I also had a rare hour or so to walk around Leipzig one afternoon. I like it. My hotel was right opposite the Nikolai church, which is where the famous Tuesday demonstrations started in 1989 and eventually brought down the wall – and the East German state. Back then the city didn’t look so good because it had been heavily bombed during the war. But over the last 25 years large sections have been rebuilt and now the centre feels great. Lots of pedestrian areas with cafes and tables on the street give it a mediterranean feeling. The architecture is a mix of all sorts of different styles, but somehow it all looks good. Apparently a lot of the building happened in the 19th century and they really went mad with various neo-styles. Neoclassical, neorenaissance, neogothic and neobaroque to name but a few.
I hadn’t expected to have any time to myself and I hadn’t expected Leipzig to be so attractive, which made it even better. I had a bit of time in a huge bookshop (Hugendubel – worth it for the name alone) and then had a coffee and a read in the Barfussgasse (bare foot alley). A perfect half hour. I felt a little better about my Solidaritätssteuer (Solidarity Tax) after this little visit.
Solidarity Tax is paid to fund infrastructure investment in the East and was introduced in 1991 to help cover the costs of German reunification. I remember when it came in, the plan was for it to last 3 years. Last year, Angela Merkel said it should continue until at least 2019 and probably beyond. Some things are the same wherever you are. If politicans find a reason to take tax from you once, it’s unlikely they will stop. Still, at least Leipzig got a lovely city centre.