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New Europe

Day One Hundred and Nineteen: Bitterfeld

With Margit Miosga and Hans Zimmerman 
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With Margit Miosga and Hans Zimmerman, whose collaboration exposed one of the biggest environmental scandals in the old East Germany.
Michael Palin - New EuropeAfter the Wall fell Margit and Hans suddenly found themselves the subject of enormous international interest, with visits from TV crews, American senators, German chancellors, and Jane Fonda.

'The bad thing, of course,' says Hans, 'is that now the factories are closed down, so people are unemployed.'

The estimated figure is staggering. Some 30,000 jobs were lost. People retired or went to work in the West, but though Hans was blamed by some, others saw him as the man who saved their town from being slowly poisoned.

His Stasi files, which Margit collected for him, show that the security police were aware of Hans and his activities and had plans for him. His marriage was to be destroyed, and it was to be made impossible for him to get a job. He was to be labelled a criminal and locked away.

Ironically, despite being a hero of the environmental movement, and having achieved far more for it than most, he's now living on the dole.

At the end of the day, after Margit has caught her train back to Berlin, I climb on the back of his latest bike and he re-creates some of the Stinketour for me. Hans, wearing a specially light motorcycle helmet so he can hear the wildlife, instructs me where best to hang onto him. He's a big man and it's a small bike, so I grasp his left shoulder and right breast and hang on for dear life.

The skies are bright, the air's clear as we drive down what was once 'the street of a thousand smells'. The chemical complexes are still there, all clean lines and
futuristic shapes. A soaring brick chimney still puffs out a trail of smoke, but there were once thirty-nine more like it. Now when Hans stops, it's to point out a nature reserve, or a stream to which fish have returned, or to listen for the sound of a woodpecker.
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  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day One Hundred and Nineteen: Bitterfeld
  • Country/sea: Germany
  • Place: Bitterfeld
  • Book page no: 277

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