Situated along the White Elster in eastern Thuringia, one does not pay attention to the third largest city in the state known as Gera, for many reasons. Once dubbed as the industrial hub in the former era of East Germany and formerly the capital of the district which included Jena, Greiz and Chemnitz, the city of 90,000 inhabitants had seen its days before 1989 and has since fallen into decay. The town once had a population of 140,000 at the time of German Reunification in 1990, but because of the exodus of several thousands of young people ages 35 and under combined with many older people passing on, Gera has become the German version of Detroit in the US: financially on the verge of collapse, laden with debt- partially because of the financing for the German Horticulture Show (BUGA) in 2007, facing the deepest cuts and tax increases in its history. Many condominiums dating back to the 1970s are partially empty and in disarray. And with the withdrawal of businesses and commerce, Gera has the highest unemployment rate in Thuringia and has become a magnet for Nationalist movements.
But despite its doom and gloom, there are some places in Gera that are considered hidden jewels and will most likely be the source of income to bring the city back from the brink. One of them is that the city prides itself on its fine arts, for the City Theater, which is located next to the Central Railway Station, provides entertainment for all ages.
Then there is the Christmas Market.
Located in the market square and extending down towards the river, past the Congress Center and stopping in front of the Arcaden Shopping Center, the Christmas market brings together all local specialty eateries and shops from the Vogtland region and the city itself, providing tourists with a chance to try out all the goodies during the tour which one is expected to take a couple hours to complete. From mulled beer with cherry flavoring (Glühbier) to bread filled with cheese and herbs to the traditional Thuringia bratwurst and even the potato dumplings (Klöse), there is a lot of goodies to taste at the market. One can find many arts and crafts items made locally at the booths, which includes the pine cone mistletoe (as seen in the picture below.)
But apart from the food and the souvenirs one can buy at the market, one of the main features in Gera are the fairy tales statues that can be found throughout the market. Eight different statues combined with several murals can be found, each one depicting a fairy tale written by the likes of Grimm, Andersen, etc. They provide the children and their parents with an opportunity to guess at what they are and explain the stories are all about. The statues appear genuine, made of metal and painted by the local artists living in and around Gera. Given their life size, they almost resemble the real thing, but in frozen animation. With as many children at the Christmas market, the city is taking major steps to making it attractive for families visiting the area. This includes having musicals available at the market square and the City Theater, the latter of which is almost always sold out.
This evening while at the market, there is the theatrical involving stuffed animals and hosted by Juri Tetzlaff, actor and moderator for the German channel KIKA, accompanied by the local symphony orchestra, which took place at the Theater. The show is sold out with every seat filled, just as any theatrical or concert that is held there. The children line up on stage to listen to his story and get involved in many of his songs and antics. Parents and other adults alike provide him with a standing ovation at the end of the story. And many kids are happy that they get to go on stage live, make themselves funny and make their parents happy. Despite the cuts and all the social problems that Gera is facing, perhaps the mayor should take a look at the bright side of the city and engage in investments from the outside, instead of making cuts and closing down parts of the cultural district, as it is being planned. After all, there are enough jewels that can be found, which will potentially pump more money into the city, filling up the empty spaces of the city center and residential areas, and bringing people back. The Christmas market, other local events that take place annually and the theater scene are the starting points. But there are more things to discover when you have a closer look at what Gera has to offer.
The Flensburg Files has a pair of Christmas Season Quizzes in the next articles for you to try out and share with your friends. In the meantime, enjoy the photos provided by the author during his trip. More information on the city’s history can be found here.