Dresden feels tremors of past at unification party

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Germany celebrated 10 years of unity yesterday in the most prosperous city of the East: amid the gilded spires of Dresden. An oompah band played on a stage next to the former Saxon royal palace, sausage stands bedecked the ramparts along the Elbe and thousands of onlookers waited to catch a glimpse of dignitaries from foreign lands who had come to congratulate the country on its progress.

Germany celebrated 10 years of unity yesterday in the most prosperous city of the East: amid the gilded spires of Dresden. An oompah band played on a stage next to the former Saxon royal palace, sausage stands bedecked the ramparts along the Elbe and thousands of onlookers waited to catch a glimpse of dignitaries from foreign lands who had come to congratulate the country on its progress.

The overwhelming majority of Dresden's half a million people stayed at home. A decade after unification, feelings among East Germans remain mixed. "Nobody is really satisfied," said Roland Berger, a 23-year-old joiner, for whom the anniversary holiday means primarily party-time. "Too much has been promised to us, and too little delivered."

Mr Berger has a job, but he was unemployed for three years. For that he blames the politicians, because "they all talk nonsense", and even refuses to acknowledge that fellow East Germans are better off now than 10 years ago. "OK, we have more money, but everything is much more expensive. Just look at the price of petrol."

Nake Flock, 67, has a "Disgusting Reunification" banner around her neck and is also disappointed. Her husband, she says, was murdered in 1986 by the Stasi, the Communist secret police. "Not one of the rich, the Stasi and the Communists lost their jobs," she claims.

But there is freedom now and, for some, that compensates for everything that has been lost. Kurt Palmroth, sporting a First World War uniform with a peaked helmet and a Bismarck moustache, is in the guard of honour in front of the Semperoper, the opera house. The Saxon Rifle Association, to which he belongs, was banned by the East German authorities because it was regarded as too militaristic.

In resurrected Dresden, Mr Palmroth and his friends are reviving a piece of their history. They wear the uniform of the Saxon Regiment, created in 1709 by August the Strong. The choice is deliberate. "We'd like to remind people of this glorious era, which followed unification under Bismarck," Mr Palmroth says. "Everybody talks about Hitler and Greater Germany, but we had more than 30 years of peace before that."

In civvies, 48-year-old Mr Palmroth is a weapons dealer. Business is slow, because too many potential young customers migrate to jobs in the West. "As long as there's no industry here, we shall remain the poor house of Germany," he laments.

Some new industry has arrived to replace the rusting factories. Dresden is the heart of East Germany's "Silicon Valley", and its shopping malls would make any Western European city proud.

Andrea Urban, aged 39, has benefited directly from Dresden's growing wealth: she is a saleswoman at a designer jewellery store. "This is a wonderful day," she says. "It's great that we are celebrating in Dresden." She wishes the two Germanys could get on with burying their differences. "I always hated this artificial division between 'Ossis' and 'Wessis'," she says. "But I have to accept that they will linger for a few more years in people's heads. Maybe the children will be different."

The politicians did their best to move away from the past and concentrate on the tasks at hand. Both President Jacques Chirac of France and the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, reminded their audience at the Semperoper that Europe's division has yet to be healed, as East European nations wait to be admitted into the EU.

But tremors of Germany's past did make themselves felt. In the western city of Düsseldorf, a synagogue was fire-bombed overnight, prompting Michel Friedman, a Jewish community leader, to declare that "the Nazis and their violence in both east and west are now united".

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