There is no Lüritz. But the place hiding behind this name exists: a town of about 55,000 inhabitants in that northern part of Germany that not so very long ago belonged to the German Democratic Republic (GDR), now deceased. Lüritz is a pretty town with a big market square, two or three beautiful churches, the remnants of two city gates, a once busy port, a shipyard (now also much reduced in size and workforce), an engineering school, and a number of splendid Renaissance buildings in front of which the tourists study their travel guides. One of these buildings houses the city’s magistrate court. Of its eight judges, seven are West Germans.
There always was a courthouse in this place: under the Archduke, the Weimar Republic, the Nazis, the Socialists, and now, finally, under the rule of law. Most of the times it was called, as it is today, the “magistrate court.” Only under the Socialists it was a “district court,” in which, during the last years of the GDR, a crew of five judges decided together about a thousand cases a year: a potpourri of civil litigation, labor and family law disputes, and criminal cases. Today, four of those judges are attorneys in town; only the fifth, still young and inexperienced when the Wall collapsed, was kept on the bench after what the Germans call “die Wende”—the Turnabout. In the court’s archive, Socialist and rule-oflaw case files are peacefully united on shiny metal shelves (the old wooden shelves, all solid oak, were thrown out soon after the reunification), and only the changing colors of the folders and their suddenly increasing bulk would tell a curious visitor that around the year 1990, the town’s legal life must have experienced an important change.
It was no accident that I discovered the Lüritz courthouse. Soon after the demise of Socialism, an East German colleague had hinted at possible archival finds in the former GDR: there must be courthouses, he said, that had preserved almost their entire output, because the East German administration of justice was notoriously short of staff and would not have managed to always properly weed out its superannuated records, as the law required. With a little luck, I might find a court that had held onto most of its files since the early postwar years.
So I went on a search in Mecklenburg, that part of Germany where Bismarck had said he wanted to be when the world came to an end, because in Mecklenburg everything happened fifty years later than elsewhere. Hopefully, that would