Germans invade Poland for food work
Thursday 27 August 1998
This is the other Frankfurt; not the rich metropolis in the west that is about to become Europe's financial capital, but the frontier town where the Wild East begins. This Frankfurt is poor and seething with resentment, blaming the money-men in its namesake and the politicians in Bonn for eight years of misery. In short, it is the kind of place where Gerhard Schroder's Socialist Democrats are set to scoop the overwhelming majority of votes in the forthcoming elections.
For pedestrians crossing the bridge from "Fortress Europe" to Poland there are few formalities. They flash their identity papers by a small booth, and off they go into the land of the miracle economy. They file back at dusk like an army of ants, laden with carrier bags.
Trade flows freely across the frontier. Frankfurt's inhabitants pack up with food and cheap clothing at the market on the other side, where the stall-holders do not turn up their noses at Deutschmarks. The Poles can use their zlotys in Frankfurt, too, but they are not exactly queuing up for the privilege.
By all accounts, capitalism has been kinder to the residents of Slubice, Frankfurt's Polish sister town, than to the Germans. The houses look more derelict there, and incomes are lower, but because of lower costs, the living there is better. On the other side of the river the economy is powering ahead at more than 6 per cent a year, while in eastern Germany it is going nowhere. And the people of Slubice have one thing the Frankfurters lack: work - even if they have to commute to Frankfurt for it.
At the foot of the bridge, Gunther Mahler, a 62-year old newspaper boy, greets day-trippers with fresh copies of a Berlin tabloid. He gets no salary, only commission on the number of papers he sells. But at least he has a job of a kind.
"There is nothing here," he says. "After the "Wende" [the collapse of East Germany], all the factories closed because they had no orders. A Pole needs DM5-6 an hour to get by. In Germany, with these prices and rents, a German needs to earn DM20-25. So all the jobs went to Poland."
There is work on the building sites - like all over eastern Germany, the town has had an impressive facelift - but most goes to the Poles. There are too few up-market customers for the glittering shops in the ultra-modern mall. The new European University provides some employment, but not enough to keep the locals busy. Frankfurt, an industrial town of 80,000, no longer has an industry.
With so much time on their hands and so little hope, many of the local youths have shaved their heads and taken to wearing black uniforms. As in much of Brandenburg, neo-Nazi activity is soaring. According to a poll taken last week, one in ten in Brandenburg is prepared to vote for the extreme right in the coming elections.
The majority of the population do not believe, however, that everything is the fault of foreigners. But despite the obvious improvements, a vast proportion feel that the way German reunification was carried through was a disaster. The ailing local economy had no protection against skilful Western concerns. And now the town cannot even protect itself against the resurgent Poles.
The person who will take blame for all that is the "Chancellor of German Unity", Helmut Kohl. At the time of unification, the opposition Social Democrats carped about the speed and the costs, but nobody listened. Now people remember, and the East is turning red. Even in elections to the Brandenburg Land assembly four years ago, the Social Democrats scooped more than half the votes, and Chancellor Kohl's party finished neck and neck with the ex-Communist PDS.
This time round, Mr Kohl will not be so lucky. His party faces the utter humiliation of being beaten into a distant third place by remnants of the leaders of a country they helped abolish.
It was German reunification and the gratitude of the East Germans that helped to elect Mr Kohl in 1990 and 1994. Now, with society atomised and the economy in tatters, the East is set to deliver an altogether different verdict.
- 1 Unseen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory chapter deemed 'too subversive' released
- 2 Ebola virus: It's ripped through towns – now the deadliest ever outbreak of the virus is heading for Africa's teeming cities
- 3 Joan Rivers: 'Palestinians deserve to be dead'
- 4 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- 5 Mexican woman becomes world’s 'oldest person' at 127
Israel-Gaza crisis: YouTube footage shows scale of destruction after 50 days of shelling
iPhone 6 'hidden code' could indicate sharper screens or bigger phones
Keira Knightley topless: Conservative actress does own take on #Freethenipple campaign for Interview Magazine
Joan Rivers: 'Palestinians deserve to be dead'
Ebola virus: It's ripped through towns – now the deadliest ever outbreak of the virus is heading for Africa's teeming cities
Robin Williams Emmys tribute led by Billy Crystal criticised for including 'racist' joke about Muslim woman
Rotherham child sex abuse scandal: Labour Home Office to be probed over what Tony Blair's government knew - and when
The Rotherham child abuse scandal is a tale of apologists, misogyny and double standards
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Do you realise just how foolish the UK looks?
With Douglas Carswell joining Ukip, my party has taken another giant step forward
£21000 - £30000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Upper KS2 Primary Teacher...
£90 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of pay : Randstad Education Southampton: ...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are seeking Trainee Recruitmen...
£21000 - £30000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: KS1 Primary Teacher in Br...