GREETINGS FROM CHEMNITZ, Manchester's twin city in Germany.
Chemnitz (pronounced Chem as in chemical and nitz as in Leibnitz) is a major industrial city in Saxony, in the eastern part of Germany. Currently the city is undergoing major reconstruction following the fall of the GDR and German reunification nearly ten years ago.
As in Manchester, much of Chemnitz city centre is a huge building site, as in this picture of the Red Tower which I took using the digital camera today.- Next to the New Town Hall, a new shopping centre is under construction - some of the old GDR blocks will be torn down, but many others are being renovated. It will take several years before the new Chemnitz city centre is finished.
Things are happening here, but it will be some time yet before Chemnitz has achieved full economic regeneration. Salaries in the east are still lower than in the west, and unemployment in Chemnitz is well above 10 per cent. In 1988, nearly 320,000 people lived here - now the population is 270,000. Most of them went to the west to seek employment.
So Chemnitz does have quite a lot in common with Manchester - industrial heritage, economic ills, economic regeneration, falling population, reconstruction. However, the population at just over a quarter of a million is less than the City of Manchester - 430,000 - and one tenth of Greater Manchester. Anyway, enough statistics...
SO WHAT IS THERE TO SEE IN CHEMNITZ? - Tourist attractions include the Municipal Art Museum,and the Museum of Natural Sciences, both housed in the same building next to the Opera House. In front of the Museum of Natural Sciences, you'll find a unique exhibit: a group of trees which were turned to stone millions of years ago. This is the Petrified Forest, one of only four surviving examples in the whole world.
The Museum of Industry was opened in 1991 in a former foundry. Transport Museum is built on a former goods yard. A short walk from the city centre is the Schlossteich is a lake overlooked by the Schloss, or Castle, in which there's a museum charting the history of Chemnitz
Close by, you'll find attractive streets with beautiful facades, some unaltered for 40 years and now being renovated. The Kassberg district has many such buildings, and is becoming quite a fashionable place to live. A medium-sized two bedroom apartment (60 sq metres) would cost 720 DM per month or 260 pounds sterling per month . Elsewhere in Chemnitz, rents are lower.
Within 25 km of here there are more attractions. The magnificent hill-top Augustusburg, with its Renaissance castle - dating from 1568. A cable railway takes you part of the way up. The beautiful Wasserschloss Klaffenbach is now a hotel and restaurant, with a small transport museum.
Rabenstein Castle is another famous landmark, and you can also visit the nearby Rabenstein Rock Cathedrals" part of a former mine, and a visitor attraction since 1936.
As in Manchester, there are too many things to see on a short visit so I'll be returning here again soon. This time I've come by car, but maybe next time I'll take the train. It's 3 hours from Berlin, and six from Munich = unfortunately no Inter-City trains run to Chemnitz, but it's well connected to the rest of Germany by Autobahn. Saxony's other two main cities - Leipzig and Dresden are a short distance away.
THE MAIN NEWS ITEM in the papers this weekend is the continuing debate about shop opening times. In Germany shops have to stay closed on Sunday, unless they are in or near a railway station or petrol station and are selling 'travellers provisions'. Now many shops all over Germany want to open on Sunday, as in the UK, but politicians, members of the public, and the churches, are against the idea.
Saxony is the only federal state which allows Sunday opening - as long as the shops are situated in a tourist centre - so for the past three weeks now, the department store Kaufhof has been open on Sunday. Other shops outside the centre must remain closed.
It doesn't look as if Sunday opening is going to be allowed in Germany - there's too much opposition to it among politicians and religious people. But in compensation, shopping hours on weekdays have been extended to 8pm all over Germany.
ECLIPSE FEVER is taking over Germany, with only a few more days to go before the Sonnenfinsternis or darkening of the sun. I'll be heading south to see it - it passes over Stuttgart through Munich and on into Austria and Romania.
THE WEATHER in Chemnitz is hot - 27 degrees celsius, 86 degrees fahrenheit. It clouded over a little today, but the sunshine's come back. I'm off out for a few glasses of excellent German beer in some of Chemnitz's drinking houses with Marko Maethe, who publishes the extensive www.region-chemnitz.com. It has an excellent collection of over 100 photographs, plus lots of info on Chemnitz.
AUF WIEDERSEHEN from Eyewitness in Manchester and hope that some time, you'll visit Chemnitz Manchester's twin city in Germany.