Gera is omitted in one of the most popular guidebooks about Germany. Or it was in the edition I have, which is perhaps some years old.
Not worth visiting? On the contrary very much so.
It’s kind of strange how so many years after the “Wende”, the change of political system, or the Unification of the two Germanys, the Eastern part remains so poor and abandoned.
Although the West Germans keep paying (and complaining about it) the “Soli”, the solidarity tax which supports their compatriots’ buildings, streets and general infrastructure, in certain places you still see phantom cities, villages or neighbourhoods.
Such is the case of Gera, a beautiful historical city with plenty of old mansions near a wood, with an impressive theatre, an old Schloss or Palace and other interesting sites.
Gera, birthplace of the important German painter Otto Dix, who depicted most convincingly the horror of the First World War in his paintings, is practically empty. Compared to the number of the villas as well as of the incredibly ugly socialistic buildings for the masses, the population today is very small.
Recently I visited Gera for the second time. The first time I had been struck by a sense of abandonment and silence, particularly in the evening. Only a very few people were walking in the streets.
This time I marvelled at the old properties of the fabric merchants who had lived here in the beginning of the 20th century.
This must be a place of contraddictions, I thought as I saw people gathering to listen to a speech by Gregor Gysi, a left-wing politician. In a poor place like this there are still those (mostly old men and women) who seem to think that communism wasn’t necessarily bad.
Finally, I felt very lucky as I accidentally watched the show of a man performing with fire and snakes. Under the sound of a dramatic music, with the help of a woman, a man dressed in black was spitting fire and playing with three snakes for an audience who had booked him for this show after a wedding in the central square of Gera.
It was such an old-fashioned spectacle and the whole atmosphere was so incredibly different from what you usually see in a european country, that I think my short trip to Gera will remain forever in my memory.