So, last week I gave some lectures at the Max Planck Institute for Economics in Jena, a city in the Lander of Thuringia in the former East Germany. This city was touted in the latest Economist Country Survey of Germany as doing as well as any in this former nation. Its university is also very renowned. Founded in 1558, it had Goethe as an administrator and faculty that included Shiller, Hegel, Fichte, Herder, Haeckel, and Frege, with both Robert Schumann and Karl Marx as students. The major business in town (it is only about 90,000 population) is the Carl Zeiss Optical Works, which dates to the 19th century, and was one of the most successful of enterprises even during the period of socialist rule, and is doing well now, part of why The Economist could tout the place. Its unemployment rate is about the same as the German average, which is much better than most of the former East Germany, where some parts still have such rates exceeding 20%.
The city is a more extreme than usual example of mixing the old and the replacing bomb-damaged-new in Germany. The old Market Square, with its Rathaus dating to the 14th century survived bombing that hit the Eichplatz next to it. That area was rebuilt during the socialist period, partly with an open square, and partly with a tall and round skyscraper. This structure represented the "Kombinate" approach of the former East Germans, which involved lots of horizontal and vertical integration of activities, with, in this case. everything in Jena coming under a single administrative entity. This skyscraper effectively represented this approach, with much of the university on several of its floors in that era.
On the one hand life seems not too bad. Buildings look OK, and people do not look poor. Students seem to have adapted to the new regime, although they were completely unacquainted with Post Keynesian economics, which I lectured on in one of my talks. However, in talking to some of them, they do not see prospects as good there. Most plan to look for jobs in "the old states" (of the West) or even outside of Germany, these being economics grad students. I also observed very little construction going on, with some of what is going on still being fixups of WW II bomb damage.
A curious point is that while hard science faculty survived mostly the transition, all the social science faculties were purged at the time. The current economics profs are all from the West. None of them live in Jena permanently, having apartments there, but going back home to the West on the weekends, if not more frequently. One of them told me that he did move his family in the late 1990s to Weimar near Jena, but they moved back west after three years, there being too much hostility from the locals. However, the students say this is gradually dying out.