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Upper Lusatia: where the east slowly blossoms


For decades, the population of Upper Lusatia fell - entire communities were threatened with extinction. Two mayors oppose it. With increasing success and growing hope.

Read the video transcript here

Rural idyll and yawning emptiness: a trip through Upper Lusatia in Saxony, one of the poorest regions in Germany and a stronghold of the AfD.

After the fall of the Wall, many people moved here, and Weisswasser was particularly hard hit.

The small town has lost more than half of its inhabitants since 1990.

In the 1990s, the city's traditional glassworks were closed, thousands of jobs in the lignite industry were shed - an entire generation moved away.

Torsten Pötzsch, Mayor:

That was pretty scary, I can remember the time well and I noticed that suddenly one or the other friend was no longer there. That was sad and I wanted to get away myself. Everything was already clear, but then I got a blank in '90, and then I said: Fine, then you'll stay here for the time being.


The cinema closed, desolation and decline shaped Weißwasser. The southern part of the city, mostly built in the 1980s, was dismantled: 3,000 apartments were demolished and their residents relocated. And those who stayed mostly did so for one reason: The city is almost directly adjacent to the Nochten open-cast lignite mine. The well-paid work here and in the Boxberg power plant still ensures a livelihood for around a third of the residents of Weißwasser. But coal should end by 2038 at the latest - the city is threatened with another wave of emigration.

Torsten Pötzsch, Mayor:


Personally, I don't want to be dependent on any industry again, such as energy or glass.

But when something changes again, something happens that we can cope with it better than in the past.


Pötzsch wants to make Weißwasser more attractive regardless of job: The 50-year-old founded the Klartext voter association, has been mayor since 2010 and is now trying to save his city.

He is no longer tearing down part of Weißwasser's prefabricated housing estates, but is remodeling them: new floor plans, roof terraces and elevators - more luxury that is said to cost only a third of the German metropolitan prices.

Torsten Pötzsch, Mayor:


Here is one of the residential areas that we have converted by removing corners.

The corner was built up, as was the corner opposite, and some of the houses were stepped on four or three floors or all of three floors.


But apartments are still empty and the city is aging rapidly.

Nebelschütz, around an hour's drive away, shows that things can also develop differently.

There, too, it did not look like it did today in the early 1990s.

Thomas Zschornak, Mayor:


It wasn't tidy.

We had the worst roads in the church.

We had hardly any trees, unless there were a lot of fir trees in Nebelschütz.

We had no gas pipelines and communication via telecom was not possible.


Many young families have moved away from Nebelschütz, they didn't want to wait twenty years for the region and the place to develop further.

But recently the trend has changed.

Quite a few are withdrawing or joining in - the pandemic has exacerbated this development.

Demand exceeds supply:

Thomas Zschornak, Mayor:


There are many partnerships and families out there who are currently looking for new territory.

We don't have the ability to offer that much demand.

But we also say: Go to the other villages, develop them and set your pillar there.

And then we can network, one learns from the other.


The Nebelschütz day care center was rebuilt, all 80 places are occupied.

Zschornak is convinced that in order for the villagers to feel good, they must be able to change something themselves.

And so he asked the children what they would like for their new daycare center.

Thomas Zschornak, Mayor:


Many had taken a picture of a mountain on it.

So we asked: "What is that?", Mayor, we would like to have a toboggan hill. 'And of course there was earth left over from the construction, we discarded it and then we have this toboggan hill with our teenagers and children created our playground.


Zschornak is a CDU member, but he could also belong to the Greens: In Nebelschütz, he relies on a self-sufficient energy supply with solar cells and wind power as well as on organic agriculture in harmony with nature. The whole village, it seems, is involved in the transformation. Herbs and fruit are grown themselves and then sold in the farm shop. The mayor would like to become more independent, his village should be supplied as far as possible with self-grown organic products. The villagers have built a summer kitchen from bricks, roof beams and windows from demolished houses - saving resources.

Nebelschütz is emphatically networked with its region.

The mayor of Weißwasser is in close contact with Zschornak, and he too has many ideas on how the community of his city should grow again: He receives job applications from people who have moved back and who want to return via a return phone.

With the Telux cultural center, Pötzsch and his team want to make the place attractive to young people.

A "city within the city" was created in a former glass factory.

Numerous creative people are converting the site, holding concerts, and an open youth center is currently being set up.

Torsten Pötzsch, Mayor:

This is a real place of power because I see that something happens every week.

On Saturday we had a party here with a few people until the early hours of the morning, it was like a small festival.

And the people who came from abroad are still raving about it because it's a beautiful place.


But to this day, white water is shrinking.

According to a survey by the Lausitz Monitor, young women in particular are moving away because there are no attractive jobs in the social sector for them.

Pötzsch would like the new federal government to have a better connection to the region's transport network in order to attract more people to East Lusatia.

Torsten Pötzsch, Mayor:


My heart beats here.

Now I have two young children, and now I know even more why I am doing this.

One has now become two, the big one is turning four, and you accept a few hardships.


Source: spiegel

All life articles on 2021-09-25

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