Dig This: Building Boom Exposes E. Germans' Pre-Communist Past

Article excerpt

Of all the unintended consequences of German reunification, perhaps one of the more surprising is a minor archaeological boom.

Investors seeking opportunities in former East German states have moved in to build shopping centers and parking garages. But they are being held to new state laws that require archaeologically significant sites to be properly excavated - at investors' expense.

The hole in the ground in the town center here in Neubrandenburg, in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, is a good example. ECE Project Management, a Hamburg firm that plans, builds, and manages shopping centers, is putting up a shopping center with an underground garage where the 13th-century town market once was.

And so, "before this can be a building site, it has to be an archaeological site," says Susanne Hayder, an archaeologist on the scene. "He who wants to build must first pay to dig."Our goal," she says of her work, "will be to produce a history of the community over the centuries." The project started in May and should be done in October.

Across the site, red strings mark off sections of particular interest - a medieval well and two complete horse skeletons, for instance. Naturally, the deeper Ms. Hayder's crews dig, the further back in time they go. The oldest sections go back to the 13th century, and the "new" sections go back to the 16th century.

Seated in her trailer-like office on the edge of the site, Hayder shows the carefully detailed site drawings that are being made - of the well, for instance, with each brick and stone outlined. "We can't preserve the site, but we can document."

Neubrandenburg, noted for the elaborate brick portals that give it its nickname as "the city of the four gates," is typical of eastern Germany in being a mixture of old architecture along with socialist concrete blocks and wide-open spaces that nowadays suggest emptiness rather than spacious grandeur. Many of the town centers were leveled by bombing during World War II. In the west, many of these centers were restored in their original architectural styles. …