Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gray Leipzig Rises like a Peacock Leipzig, Once a Beacon of Protest in the Revolution against Communist Rule, Is Suddenly Prosperous. but City Residents Sometimes Feel like `Hired Help.'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gray Leipzig Rises like a Peacock Leipzig, Once a Beacon of Protest in the Revolution against Communist Rule, Is Suddenly Prosperous. but City Residents Sometimes Feel like `Hired Help.'

Article excerpt

LEIPZIG, seat of the 1989 East German revolution, used to look like a scratched, black-and-white movie.

Coated with soot from coal furnaces, this gray city was often shrouded by dense fog, intensified by industrial smoke and exhaust belching from the rattling, two-stroke motors of East Germany's cheap Trabbi cars.

Now, almost four years after hundreds of thousands of Leipzigers took to the streets to protest communism and the utter neglect of their city, Leipzig is as colorful as a peacock. And of all the cities of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), Leipzig shows the most promise, economists say.

The downtown shopping district has been entirely westernized. There are Moevenpick and McDonalds restaurants, and boutiques featuring Joop! and Lancome. Hardly anyone drives a Trabbi anymore. Jackhammers pound away in almost every neighborhood, as this city of 500,000 experiences a building boom unsurpassed in eastern Germany.

With air pollution greatly reduced, it is even possible to keep a windowsill white all year round.

Leipzig is returning to its pre-World War II role as a key trade and finance center in Central Europe. In communist days, banking here was limited to three state-run institutions. In today's Germany, Leipzig is second only to Frankfurt in terms of the number of banks and insurance companies, with over 80 different banks represented in the city.

Quelle, Germany's equivalent of Sears, Roebuck & Co., has meanwhile sunk 1 billion deutsche marks ($600 million) into a vast warehouse and distribution center on Leipzig's northern edge. A sign at the entrance gate describes it as Germany's largest and most modern warehouse.

The Quelle warehouse abuts another major new development in town:the designated site for Leipzig's international trade fair, or messe, which has an 800-year-old tradition. Twice a year, westerners would pass through the iron curtain to visit the enormous Leipzig fair. Now the fair has been divided into smaller categories, so that it runs year round. Relocation from its current dingy, block-house location to the modern fair grounds will cost 1.5 billion marks ($900 million). Marks flow to Leipzig

In all, a staggering 10 billion to 15 billion marks of investment is flowing into Leipzig, mostly from the private sector and much of it to office parks on the city periphery. (Malling of east Germany, left)

But the city, state, and federal governments are spending as well:on fiber-optic telecommunication links, a bigger airport, improved train transport, new streetcars, widened and repaved autobahns, and Leipzig's rich cultural legacy - a legacy which officials admit is really too big for a city this size to support but too prestigious to scale down. After all, Leipzig is where J. S. Bach spent most of his career.

The building and planning frenzy is based on the expectation that Leipzig will again become a springboard to the east. But businesses and city government officials acknowledge that, at present, the facts haven't yet caught up with the dream.

"There is not enough trade" to support all the financial institutions and businesses springing up in Leipzig, admits Hans-Dieter Manegold, general manager of the Chamber of Industry and Trade in Leipzig. To the east, former communist markets still lie in ruins, and to the west, the European Community is suffering recession, he explains. …

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