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New Europe

Day One Hundred and Nineteen: Bitterfeld

Bitterfeld, near Leipzig 
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Bitterfeld, near Leipzig. With Margit Miosga and Hans Zimmerman, whose collaboration exposed one of the biggest environmental scandals in the old East Germany.
Michael Palin - New EuropeSomeone who had more than his fair share of Stasi files is Hans Zimmerman, a big barrel of a man with deep blue eyes and a long grey beard who looks like a cross between Father Christmas and Bismarck. He lives just north of Leipzig in Bitterfeld in an industrial town whose name he made famous across the world. In the late 1980s Hans, unable to tolerate the permanent cloud of pollution that hung over his town from the chemical and pharmaceutical works, co-operated secretly with a journalist from the West called Margit Miosga to make a television report on conditions in Bitterfeld. It had such impact that it was shown far beyond the borders of Germany, prompting visits from all sorts of concerned parties and the eventual closure of many of the most polluting plants.

Margit recently returned to do a 'twenty years after' film, and I meet up with them both at the Zimmermans' busily furnished top-floor flat in a modest block opposite a shopping mall.

They're an odd couple, the big, hairy, provincial Hans and Margit, a bright, energetic, chain-smoking urban intellectual, but they've clearly struck up a close rapport over the years.

Hans' wife Inge has made us one of her apparently legendary cakes. Hans beams and recommends a piece. Margit translates for us.

'He says it's good for sweaty feet and a broken heart.'

In a bedroom-study at the back of the flat, on whose shelves are a series of ring binders containing all 3,228 pages of the Stasi's files on Hans Zimmerman, they tell me their story.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day One Hundred and Nineteen: Bitterfeld
  • Country/sea: Germany
  • Place: Bitterfeld
  • Book page no: 276

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