Things to represent Germany?
The Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst Leipzig's correspondent for Eastern and Southern Europe asks staff for suggestions…(more)

Coals for my Suitcase

The living facts of the case
This is the kind of expression typical of the contribution from an employee of the Leipzig Tax Investigation Office (more)

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... can be found in the german version of this page (to the german version)

The first thing I received for my suitcase was a neat little packet of brown coal briquettes. Brown coals were a landmark industry of the former GDR, says Gisela Pataki. No other country depended so much on this fossil fuel, and it was the GDR's only domestically produced fuel resource.

The names Mibrag, Laubag, Rekord or Romonta are embossed on the coals. Gisela would have preferred to give me Romonta briquettes. Romonta were named after the crude montan wax (German: Rohmontanwachs), which is extracted from the coal in the Amsdorf montan wax factory. The wax was also used for coating concrete, or at least, says Gisela, that is what she learnt at school in the Productive Work lessons.

My pack of briquettes comes from the region of Lausitz, brand name Rekord. The big opencast mines are south of Leipzig and in the Lausitz. The extraction of brown coal is a space-consuming affair. According to Gisela, they don't dig deep, but cover lots of ground. Of the former 39 opencast mines in operation in the GDR, a mere 6 are still active. The Rekord briquette production is the last of its kind, and my little pack of them are somehow too a last parcel from a bygone age.
The vast pits are transformed into lakes and local recreation areas. South of Leipzig, a new complex called Neuseenland (New Lakeland) is being developed with yacht harbours and smart restaurants.

The jobs have gone, just like most jobs in the chemical and steel industries. But maybe a few sausage sellers will be needed at the new leisure lakes. "Loads of people are leaving for the West. The West changes people." But still, people tell her that those who move away somehow always end up with others who have also moved. "It's as if they intuitively recognise each other."

Gisela chose brown coal in response to my request for objects that could somehow represent Germany as she thinks it leads on to many interesting questions: about typical industrial products, about unemployment, about the changes since 1989 and the disappearance of the GDR. Many of these issues would be all too familiar for people in the former Eastern bloc countries. They must also have studied the GDR economy at school, just as she herself had learnt all about the economy in Bulgaria, Poland and the Soviet Union. Industrial production in West Germany had not been part of the curriculum, however. Perhaps, she thought, the people I will show the contents of my suitcase to will recognise something.




Things to represent Germany?

The Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst Leipzig's correspondent for Eastern and Southern Europe asks staff for suggestions…

"Pfefferkuchen," says Annett Koch. She is in charge of internal admin at the gallery, but is currently on maternity leave. German Christmases are really typical, she says. Germans have a very particular way of celebrating Christmas Eve and the festive days with all the family. Pfefferkuchen, or gingerbread, represents this way of celebrating Christmas. Annett recently had a baby. The last weeks of her pregnancy were just over Christmas and she stuffed herself with Pfefferkuchen. She can't stand the sight of it anymore.

She thinks it is important to carry a positive message abroad, and not just the reports of streets full of skinheads. She doesn't want people in other countries to think that she has no idea how hard their lives are, that she lives in the land of milk and honey, as if it was her fault that she was born in a country in which life is good in comparison to the hardship suffered elsewhere.

Christmas, at least, is a neutral subject, says Annett.
I asked her whether she picked this object in view of the countries I am going to and whether she would have picked something else if I was going to another part of the world. We both found ourselves unable to judge what and how much people in Eastern Europe know about Germany. Annett thinks it can't be much. People in Bulgaria, perhaps, know more because it has always been popular with tourists. She thinks of Romania as the essence of poverty. Her sister went to Romania in the 80s, and saw a horse collapse of hunger in the street.




The living facts of the case

This is the kind of expression typical of the contribution from an employee of the Leipzig Tax Investigation Office

I will decide whether I am grateful to Stephan Schikora for his contribution when I get back. He picked a book published by the Federal Ministry of Finance detailing income tax regulations for the year 2001. It is 1881 pages long and weighs every ounce of it. A new tome like this is published almost every year, says Stephan. The income tax book is always green, just as the company tax book is always blue.

And this is the definition of taxes: Taxes are one-off or regular payments that are not a payment for a particular service, but that a public authority, in order to generate income, compulsorily levies on everyone to whom the situation applies to which the law attaches the obligation to pay.

Stephan explained to me that our tax laws date back to the system of the Reichsabgabenordnung (Reich tax code) and that they have a directive function: Taxes are not just a source of income. They are tools of economic and social policy.

I tell him that somebody once told me that 70% of the world's tax legislation goes back to German tax laws. Entirely possible, says Stephan. His idea of representing the German state with the income tax guide is related to its imposing volume, and the two ways in which this fact can be interpreted: On the one hand, the morass of rules and regulations reflects the attempt to do justice to as many social and professional groups as possible. They attempt to create a differentiated structure, a just reflection of reality. The real object of tax laws is therefore social justice! But on the other hand, the lobbyists and interest group representatives also have a myriad of possibilities to circumvent this objective and press for special rights and exemptions, which then leads to injustices, as justice is measured by the power of the representative body concerned.

In view of my diplomatic mission, he added that the creation of so many new states in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union inspired many countries to attempt to export their own legal systems and structures into these new countries, using it as an opportunity to influence and secure private or national economic interests.