Monday, May 13, 2013

How can a Thousand-year-old City Re-invent Herself?

I was born in Nordhausen, a city in the state of Thueringen (Thuringia) in Germany. When I lived there we always would refer to the Harz-Mountains which are north of the city.  I lived there when Nordhausen was part of the DDR or East-Germany.  My dad owned a Jewelry store which he had built based on his training as a watchmaker and his drive to be a business owner.  When in 1961, he was notified, that he would have to surrender his ownership to the state, he decided to close the doors himself, and leave his business as well as all other personal property, except for a few suitcases, behind.  With four children in tow he and my mother managed to bring us all safely through Berlin into the Western sector where we registered as refugees. 


For many years I had dreams, roaming around my hometown.  We had left quite suddenly, not telling anyone, leaving our friends and neighbors without a clue.  At the time I didn’t understand why we had to leave. Then on August 13, 1961, a wall was built in Berlin, which created a more permanent separation between the two countries. I could only be grateful to my parents to have the foresight to bring us to freedom and give us a better future.


In the meantime, I have gone back to Nordhausen several times.  First, I just wanted to see all familiar places, like the house we lived in, walk the well-known streets, and see the locations where we played.  I even could share some cherries from the garden my parents cultivated with my children.


Nordhausen is in many ways a significant city.  It was first mentioned in a document on May 13, 927.  A distinctive landmark is a Roland statue, which represents a middle-age knight and symbolizes freedom, power, and jurisdiction.  He is holding a sword in one hand and the coat of arms with a crowned black eagle in the other.  Since the statue was one of the few remaining landmarks surviving WWII, we celebrated in the 1950s each year the Roland with a parade. 


Nordhausen was over many hundred years an important economic region of the South-Harz Mountain.  The city experienced many devastating catastrophes including fires, famines, and the difficult years of the plague. None of them were as bad as the damage of the bombing at the end of WWII.  With the destruction of 85% of the city the whole city image was changed.  Not until the re-unification of Germany in 1989 came the city to new life.  In 2004 Nordhausen became the center of the “2nd Thüringer Landesgartenschau.”  Through this event Nordhausen was transformed into its new glory with flowers, landscaping and restoring many of the old ruins into beautiful works of art.


Nordhausen was once known for its tobacco industry, especially chewing tobacco. It is still famous for the distilled spirit “Nordhäuser Doppelkorn” which is made from fermented rye, containing more than 37% alcohol. 

Nordhausen has one other secret: during WWII it became the center of the V-2 rocket production.  In the nearby underground tunnels of the Kohnstein the Nazis used slave laborers and prisoners to build their defense.  Statistics mention that during the last years of the war 60,000 prisoners from over 21 nations were working day and night underground of Mittelbau-Dora in the tunnels never seeing daylight.  About one third of these captives were either killed or died of malnutrition and the work circumstances.  Some of these laborers came from other concentration camps to speed up the production and to replace the dying.  Today, the former crematorium is the center of the museum for the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp.


I believe that the city had to pay a high price for the atrocities happening before their very eyes (maybe hidden in the underground of the Kohnstein Hills).  To restore this, the city faced not only the bombings of WWII but also 40 years (from 1949-1989) under the East-German regime. 


When I met my class mates at the class reunion on May 4, 2013, I became very inspired that I saw people who were not only survivors but even at their advanced age believed in their city.  They were people who still had spunk and were proud to have lived through it all by reinventing themselves many times, by adjusting to new work environments, different ownerships, and even retraining in a different branch of occupation.  They didn’t take anything for granted but rather were willing to work hard and to roll up their sleeves many times, just like their parents did after their city was destroyed.


Even though I didn’t live there for the past 52 years, I feel like I have taken away the same willing spirit in me.  We sure can never forget where we came from. 


1 comment:

Yusun Abrahams said...

I'd love to go back to Nordhausen again sometime. I'm glad you had the opportunity to go to your class reunion and visit your hometown.