On the topic of business trips again, sometimes I do get to go to places that I wouldn’t normally venture if I was a tourist. Once, I had to go to a small obscure village in the former East Germany to commission some third party equipment that we had to integrate into a manufacturing line. Being slightly older and wiser now after a few trips, I started to do some research as to how I was going to get there.
I had to go to Marksuhl, a small village which incidentally lies in the former East Germany. The year was 1998. The Berlin Wall had fallen almost 9 years ago, but integration of East Germany was slow and painful, and even after 9 years, there was still massive unemployment and lack of economic development in East Germany. To most of my fellow European colleagues, East Germany was some pariah place that they tried to avoid at that time. So when I asked how I could get to Marksuhl, the reaction was one of indifference and horror.
I wasn’t a stranger to Germany, having been to Frankfurt, Munich and Regensburg before. But these were big cities of the capitalistic west and well connected by transportation, Eastern Germany was a different story. So I finally figured it out; after flying into Frankfurt, I had to take a train to Eisenach, which is also in the former Eastern Germany and then from there take a car or taxi to Marksuhl.
So I finally found myself getting off at Eisenach Hofbanhof past 10pm in the night. Besides, the 13 hour flight from Singapore to Frankfurt, it had taken me another 3-4 hours by train to get to Eisenach. And now I was trying to figure how to get to my hotel in some small village. Fortunately, there were taxis waiting at the train station, and in my most basic German, I told the driver I wanted to go to Marksuhl and gave him the address of the hotel I was staying at. I hoped he understood me as we drove in the pitch dark of the German countryside.
Luckily, it was a short ride and considering how expensive taxis are in Europe, a good thing for me. Finally, I arrived at Marksuhl and my hotel was really an inn. It was close to 11pm by then and the whole village was asleep. I got shown to my room which was the top most floor in the attic, and after climbing 3 floors with my luggage (no lifts in the small inn), I was too tired to care about anything. Everything else would have to wait until next morning.
In the morning, after a basic country breakfast, I went outside to see my first glimpse of Eastern Germany. Well, I was stuck in a small farming village, surrounded by cow pastures.
“Yeah, this can’t be right!” I thought to myself. But the company made me stay at this inn because it’s right next to the factory. In the distance I could see some modern factory buildings standing in the middle of the pastures. It looked out of place to me. So I guess that it made sense for West Germany to relocate industries into Eastern Germany. It meant lower costs for the relocated companies in terms of rents and wages, and it benefited the local populace by giving them jobs and opportunities for economic growth. After decades of economic stagnation under communist policies, it was, and is still a painstaking effort to bring East Germany up to economic parity with the rest of Germany.
I thought to myself that I was going to be stuck here for a week and boredom couldn’t get any worse. Good thing for me, a couple of my Swiss colleagues were joining me for the week to help in the project. They had rented a car, and now I was mobile… Hurray!
The closest town was Eisenach where all the ‘action’ was in terms of restaurants, pubs and sight-seeing. Everyday, we found ourselves driving to Eisenach for dinner and sometimes lunch.
The major attraction of Eisenach is Wartburg Castle which sits on a cliff, 410m above the town. The castle was built in the Middle Ages and is today an UNESCO Heritage site. We made a short visit to this castle during one of our extended lunch breaks.
Besides Wartburg Castle, Eisenach is also the birthplace of the famous composer Johann Sebastian Bach and there is a statue of him in the town. The other famous person is Martin Luther who came to Eisenach in the 1500’s and founded the Reformation Movement. There is also a statue of Martin Luther in the town.
I spent only a short time in Eisenach, but it was an interesting town with a long history. Perhaps another visit would be spent on a longer stay to enjoy the historical significance of the place. Today, Eisenach is a car production center with Opel as the biggest employer in the area. Tourism is still the main source of income for the people here. And as for Marksuhl, it still remains as a small village.