Brian Wilson: Leipzig shows how history's giants bring people together
In Leipzig, Brian Wilson finds evidence of the greatness of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who took an extraordinary decision that helped make the reunification of Germany a success.
It is surely a paradox of history that so much time now has to be spent resisting efforts to create new borders when most of the past couple of centuries’ heroes are those who brought people together.
This week, I was in two German cities – Berlin for an event promoting Harris Tweed at the British Embassy and Leipzig for a sporting engagement. The last time I did this double-header was in 1990 under very different circumstances, as an observer at the first elections in reunited Germany.
I could not help reflecting on that period with the aid of hindsight and amidst the evidence of what has transpired. My first outstanding memory is of the dramatic impact on the campaign of one of the period’s great acts of statesmanship by the German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl.
Against the advice of his Central Bank and scepticism from political opponents, Kohl made the extraordinary decision to give useless East German deutschmarks the same value as very strong West German ones. In one fell swoop, the concept of unity became tangible even if additional short-term economic pressures were created.
My other recollection is of vast industrial plants in the old East Germany belching foul odours into the polluted skies. These places employed tens of thousands of people yet one look at them told you that the only responsible course of action would be to close them down on health-and-safety grounds.
Nearly 30 years on, the scale of the achievement cannot be overstated. Leipzig today is a dynamic, youthful city while gradually the economic imbalances within Germany have been eroded. Blessed indeed are the unifiers.