Bitterfeld was once considered the most polluted city in the GDR, but twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall its reputation as an industrial nightmare is just a distant memory. Mayor Horst Tischer tells DW why.
Horst Tischer shows visitors around 'his' Bitterfeld
DW-WORLD.DE: Mayor Tischer, what can you tell us about Bitterfeld's development since the fall of the Berlin Wall?
Horst Tischer: I would say, in no uncertain terms, that it's been a remarkable development. You have to remember that in the late 1980s, Bitterfeld was considered the country's most polluted city. So when you compare the region today with what it was then, you realize what an extraordinary transformation has occurred.
And there are no downsides?
Obviously there are downsides to such a transformation. In the late 1980s, there were approximately 75,000 jobs here. Most of them have been lost. Today we have approximately 40,000 to 45,000 jobs, which is a nice figure. We have managed to rebuild the chemical industry.
Bayer is good for Bitterfeld's economy
And are the people of Bitterfeld content?
Obviously, people's expectations have grown, so they are not necessarily content, no. But in my opinion, impatience and a desire for improvement can be constructive.
Which examples best illustrate Bitterfeld's transformation in the last twenty years?
The Bitterfeld-Wolfen Chemical Park merges what were traditionally the region's two main industries -- chemicals and photographic film. Both industrial grounds were completely redeveloped and all toxic elements removed. The area is enormous, so there was enough room for new industrial areas.
We are home to a major branch of Bayer, for example, which produces Aspirin. There are factories making paint base and other similar products. There's a major US sheet glass factory. We have opened doors for numerous small businesses.
And how is the environment faring?
One example of development in Bitterfeld is the rehabilitation of the Goitzsche opencast mining pit, which was flooded, making Bitterfeld a lakeside city.
You mentioned that many jobs have been lost in the region. What else has Bitterfeld lost in the last twenty years?
Obviously the people who leave the region tend to be the most flexible, the best-trained and the youngest. The region is therefore home to an ageing population, which is a cause for concern. But we expect developments such as the emergence of the Solar Valley to attract people.
(Editor's note: The large solar company Q-Cells has facilities in the area.)
Bitterfeld has only recently become a lakeside city
In 2007, Bitterfeld merged with several neighboring districts to form Bitterfeld-Wolfen. Why?
We had been mulling a fusion for some time and had been referring to the Bitterfeld-Wolfen region long before it was formalized. The main reason is that our industrial parks sprawl over five districts, which have essentially merged. That meant there was a certain interest in cutting red tape. The districts were so closely linked it was almost impossible to identify where one ended and the next began. A bit of pressure from industry and a certain amount of political support ultimately led to an agreement to merge these districts.
It sounds like an arranged marriage…
Let me put it like this: Such an agreement will always result in a few teething pains. We're still getting over them. But I think it was a sound decision. It will be a while before people get used to it. In the past there have been rivalries -- between Bitterfeld and Wolfen, for example. These need to be forgotten. But I believe we will soon start to reap the benefits of the fusion.
Let's look to the future. Where do you think Bitterfeld-Wolfen is headed in the next five to ten years?
We will continue raising the profile of Solar Valley and the Chemical Park, and we will continue developing leisure opportunities on the Goitzsche Lake. But these projects take time, and need the support of the public. There will be no more sudden political changes comparable to those in the reunification years. We want to be a lakeside industrial hub.