Don's Diary

November 23, 2001


In East Berlin - yes, it still exists 11 years after the fall of the wall - the clocks really do tick differently. We are sitting at a café near our flat in Prenzlauer Berg, the Primrose Hill of Berlin, waiting for breakfast, which takes more than an hour to arrive. What one has to remember is that this is not the "elbow society" (or ratrace) of the West but somewhere between Bohemia and Ireland.

I have been on study leave in Berlin for six weeks now. The Berlin state elections are tomorrow and the result looks set to be interesting.

The PDS (the Party of Democratic Socialism), the subject of my research topic, is riding high in the polls. Remarkable for the ex-communist party in the ex-frontline of the ex-cold war. The other parties also seem to have similar levels of support, so lots of coalitions are possible.


The polls were right. In East Berlin the PDS with its leader Gregor Gysi (a man so charismatic and ubiquitous he makes Ken Livingstone look like Ken Barlow) took 50 per cent of the vote, with more than23 per cent in the city as a whole.

This has set the cat among the pigeons because they have done so well that they really ought to be in the coalition but they oppose the war in Afghanistan so are beyond the pale for the SPD (the Social Democrats), which emerged as the main party.

That only leaves a traffic-light: a coalition of SPD (red), Liberals (of the free-market variety, yellow) and Greens (well, um... green).


I go to the PDS offices for an interview with their press spokesman, a sort of Alistair Campbell with brains and manners, and who should I bump into in the lift but Gregor Gysi? I try to look cool. "Great result", I say, " Danke " he replies. Wow, hold the front page! Lecturer in famous politician scoop! Well, that is what I would have said had I thought of it in time. In fact the only words spoken in the lift were: "Bing! Third floor."


After all this research, we decide that we need a break so try to book a weekend in Prague. This being East Berlin it is not that simple. The woman in the travel agent reckons that the flights and hotels they sell are ridiculously expensive. "A complete rip off, so they are," she says in her Berlino-Dublin twang. We try another one who is happy to sell us a holiday but cannot work the computer to book it.


I have a discussion in a café with some slick management consultants (I think they said they were from Toilet and Douche, but that cannot be right) about Poland. They have just been to Gdansk to negotiate the sale of the shipyard, the one where Solidarnosc started. They were upset that the management and the unions would not agree to a no-strike deal. Plus ça changes ...


Back to the café and then on to Prague. I wonder what delights await us there - the real Bohemia, perhaps?

Peter Thompson is a lecturer in German at the University of Sheffield.

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