A Journey Through East Germany - Part II
Magdeburg really is a fascinating place. I hadn’t been to the old central German city in years. Yet there I was, earlier this week, sitting on the balcony of my 6th-floor hotel room overlooking its scarred but characterful cityscape.
Magdeburg is the capital of the German state of Saxony-Anhalt and is situated around 100 miles southwest of Berlin. It played a central role in the late Middle Ages and Early Modern times when it was one of the largest cities in the German-speaking territories and an important place for the Reformation and book printing.
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But it has also seen its share of catastrophe. Burnt to the ground in the 13th century, devastated during the Thirty Years’ War and bombed in the Second World War, it still bears the deep marks of its losses and its reinventions. From my balcony, I could see church towers, prefab housing blocks and cranes building new structures. You get the distinct feeling Magdeburg isn’t trying to hide its past. It wears the whole array on its sleeve.
I had been invited to speak at the City Library, once again about the German edition of Beyond the Wall. But I didn’t drive straight from my Berlin hotel to Magdeburg. Whenever I’m in Germany, I usually end up filling any and all gaps in my schedule ticking off items on a very long to-do list. Writing and talking about Germany in Britain has its perks but it also means a lot of the research, interviews and so on have to be conducted abroad.
This time, I needed to rummage through hundreds of postcards and letters, written by a German soldier on the Western Front during the First World War (more on what that was for soon). The documents were held by the Thuringian State Archive in Weimar, a three-hour drive south of Berlin and therefore not exactly on the way. But I decided the documents I needed were still a lot closer to Magdeburg than they were to East Sussex. It had to be done.