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New Europe

Day One Hundred and Nineteen: Bitterfeld

Michael Palin - New EuropeMargit, alerted by an environmentalist friend in the GDR, came to Bitterfeld in 1987 and Hans took her out on his motorbike for a 'Stinketour', as he called his introduction to the mess of evil, bubbling waterways and yellow-belching chimneys of Bitterfeld. Margit had never seen anything like it and set about planning to make a report for a TV station. It wasn't easy. She couldn't telephone Hans, as all calls from outside the GDR would be tapped, but plans were made through intermediaries and Margit cleverly suggested they shoot on the day of the European football final, when most of the male population would be indoors in front of their televisions.

With a cameraman on the back of his bike, and the camera hidden in a shoulder bag, they successfully filmed the Stinketour. Hans was never seen or heard on the finished film.

I ask him what his penalty would have been had he been found out.

'Fifteen years,' translates Margit, 'and not in one of the comfortable jails.'

The footage was shown in a ten-minute clip on a popular political programme.
Margot reaches for a cigarette.

'Two days later a bus from Berlin came, from the big shots. They cleaned the whole factory, and they brought loads of sand and soil and filled in the dirt lakes we showed.'

Hans interjects.

'Yes, the policy was at that time to cover everything and to change nothing.'
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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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